Secret deal behind release of Italian hostages [Archives:2006/910/Front Page]

January 9 2006

Mohammed bin Sallam
SANAA, Jan.7 ) The five Italian tourists taken hostage by Al Zaidi tribe in the province of Mareb, 170 km east of Sana'a, were released following a secret deal with kidnappers Friday morning after seven days in captivity.

Armed men abducted these tourists to put pressure on the government to set free eight tribesmen detained by the security authorities since the final days of 2004. The government held the eight people in detention to force the tribe to hand murderers of Sheikh Abdulwali Al-Gairi who was killed by a group of armed men-who the authorities say are from Beit Al-Zaidi-in the capital city of Sana'a by the end of 2004.

Mediation efforts by Sheikh Jaabal Tuaiman, MP, and Sheikh Derham Al-Dhama, General Secretary of the Local Council in Serwah District, where the tourists were held captive, succeeded in securing the release of the kidnapped Italians, tribal sources told the media. The mediation efforts convinced the kidnappers to release the Italian tourists in exchange for following up procedures of the case of Al Zaidi eight tribesmen detained by the security authorities. The kidnappers demand that their fellow detainees be set free.

Security sources said the kidnappers who were arrested were transferred to the security apparatuses to be investigated, pointing out that they have been holding the Italian hostages in a house in Al-Mahjaza, a village with harsh topography, 25 km northwest of Mareb. The house belongs to an Al-Mahjaza local under the name of Mane' Al-Ameri.

Non-official sources indicated that the Yemeni government made a secret deal with kidnappers with the aim of maintaining status of the State in return for meeting the demands of the kidnappers.

The sources said that Sheikh Tuaiman convinced the kidnappers not to resist the armed and security forces following the excessive presence of troops in the area. They added the Embassy of Italy to Yemen played a great role in persuading the security authorities not to use force against the kidnapers and to prefer the peaceful dialogue.

The humanitarian appeals by relatives of the hostages have their effect on the intensification of tribal pressures on the kidnappers to immediately secure the release of the Italian nationals.

Italian President Ciampi and Prime Minister Berlusconi expressed their great happiness at the release of the five hostages in Yemen Friday morning and thanked the Yemeni government for the efforts it paid to save lives of the kidnapped.

Ciampi said, ” it is wonderful news and the daytime became more illuminated, I thank those who worked hard for the release of hostages, mainly officials of the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Embassy of Italy to Sana'a, as well as efforts of the Yemeni government.

On his part, the Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini expressed his heartfelt regards to his Yemeni counterpart and said in a letter to Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi: ” this will enhance the friendly and traditional relations between Italy and Yemen.”

One of the kidnapped women, Maura Tonetto, narrated to the official media her experience along with other companions while being held captive.

“I along with my companions stayed on the ground throughout the night in the day preceding our release in response to the arbitrary orders of kidnappers. In the early morning, we heard periodical shooting of fire and the drone of helicopters,” she added.

Tonetto further went on: “My captive companions were optimistic that they will be released immediately, particularly after the kind treatment they received from the captors. But after days of the kidnapping, we started to experience the nervousness of the abductors and their bad style that did not last for a long time. This made us believe that we will be freed safely in a short period of time.”

She said, “we were laughing at the disputes that occurred among kidnappers themselves, but at last we felt that the situation gets more complicated.”

She described the ordeal, “when the kidnappers heard the shooting of fire, two of them started to point their guns at us and demanded us to remain motionless. Later on, we heard one of the kidnappers talking in a loud sound to his accomplice, then he returned to us and demanded his accomplice to go out. When the two went out, we found that they had thrown their guns, and at that moment the police stormed the place where we had been seized.”