While security forces surround kidnappers, German hostages reported in good condition [Archives:2008/1217/Front Page]

December 18 2008

Almigdad Mojalli
& Aqeel Al-Halali

SANA'A, Dec. 17 ) Yemeni security forces laid siege to the mountain village of Naba'a in the Bani Dhabyan district in an attempt to release three Germans kidnapped last Sunday. The Germans were kidnapped by an armed group in the district of Rada'a in the Al-Baidha province, 130 km east of the capital Sana'a.

Colonel Saleh Dahmash, the regional security chief, stated that the security forces surrounded the hide-out and closed all the roads leading to Naba'a, which is 60 km east of Sana'a.

Dahmash indicated that security forces arrested some suspects and reassured that the hostages are in a good situation. The German embassy had been in touch with them by phone and ensured they are all ok. Moreover, the embassy is closely following the progress of the sheikhs who are negotiating with the kidnappers.

The armed group, which is affiliated with the Bani Dhabyan tribe that is famous for kidnappings, abducted a German woman who works with the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) while she was touring the historical city of Rada'a with her parents, believed to be in their 70s.

A local reliable source in Khawlan district, on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the head of the kidnapping group, Abd Rabbo Saleh al-Tam, was demanding the government pay YR 40 million ($200,000) in compensation for a property in Sana'a, the ownership of which he disputed with an influential businessman. He also demanded that police release his brother Mohammed Attam and son Mofareh Abd Raboo Al-Tam who were arrested five months ago over a land dispute.

According to the source, tribal mediation is expected to result in the release of the hostages peacefully in the next three days.

Ali Mabkbot Olaib, one of the Bani Dhabyan sheikhs, warned the government that it will face strong resistance in case it attempts to release the Germans by force.

Many innocent people from the Bani Dhabyan tribe complained that the government is arresting any man who belongs to the tribe, even if he doesn't have any connection with the kidnappers or the issues.

Meanwhile, police cars surrounded Wednesday the Sana'a residence of Sheikh Saleh Khasha'an an influential figure from Bani Dhabyan in an attempt to arrest him and to force the kidnappers into releasing the hostages.

“Security forces cordoned off the house and closed all roads leading to the village,” an Interior Ministry official told the media.

Although the Yemeni government has ensured that it would not use force to release the hostages.

At the same time, many sheikhs from Bany Dhabyan tribe stated that there are more than thirty police cars surrounding the Village of Naba'a.

The Minister of Tourism, Nabel Al-Faqeh, stated that the Yemeni government will work towards releasing the German hostages using all available and appropriate means, stating that security personnel are negotiating with the kidnappers. Al-Faqeh said that the Ministry of Interior is the only institution authorized to negotiate with the kidnappers.

Al-Faqeh noted that tourism in Yemen will be affected negatively because of this kidnapping, which is the fourth that Yemen has witnessed during 2008.

It is worth mentioning that another clan from the same tribe still holds 8-year-old Mohammed Al-Odaini hostage, who they kidnapped from his school on Dec. 1, 2008 under the assumption that he is the son of the wealthy businessman Tawfeq Al-Khameri.

Although Al-Khameri denies that the child is his, the kidnappers demand Al-Khameri pay a ransom of USD 400,000 as payback over a transaction involving the illegal sale of mercury.

The Yemeni government has recently established special courts to deal with issues concerning the kidnapping of tourists and emphasized the punishment against perpetrators could result in the death sentence.

Kidnapping in Yemen

Yemen's powerful tribes have abducted more than 200 foreigners over the past 15 years in a bid to extract concessions from the central government, whose rule is difficult to extend over the lawless countryside.

The most recent kidnapping involving foreigners took place in September 2008. An armed group kidnapped Colombian engineers who were working with the Yemen Liquid Natural Gas Project in Shabwa governorate, one month after kidnapping an Algerian engineer working on the same project. The hostages in both cases were released by tribal mediation within 24 hours.

In May 2008, an armed group in Marib governorate kidnapped two Japanese tourists and demanded the release of a murder suspect. Tribal mediation secured their release within seven hours of their capture.

In January 2006, an armed group also located in Marib kidnapped five Italian tourists and detained them in the Serwah district for six days until the government arrested the kidnappers and released the hostages.

In September 2006, an armed group kidnapped four French tourists in the Shabwa governorate, demanding the transfer of some of their relatives from Abyan prison to Sana'a prison.

Most kidnapping incidents in Yemen end with the safe release of the hostages, but in 1998 four tourists out of 16 were killed when security forces tried to release them by force in the Abyan governorate.