Freed hostages in Yemen were the lucky ones

Freed hostages in Yemen were the lucky ones
# 28 May 2010 20:07 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Tourist hostage-takings in Yemen come in two kinds. Luckily for an American couple released this week after a day in the captivity of tribesmen, theirs was the kind where no one is hurt, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
The couple were abducted by armed gunmen on Monday on their way back from a beauty spot in the mountains near the capital Sanaa, finding themselves stopped by armed men just after they returned to their car.
"The first half an hour I had no feelings ... there was no panic, there was no fear, no tears," Ludmilla Yamalova said in an interview with the U.S. network ABC News along with Glen Davis after their release. The gunmen "had madness in their eyes," she said.
"Then, about 30 minutes into it as we were going, sinking deeper and deeper, the true fear of physical violence kicked in," she said. She was able to surreptitiously send a text on her cell phone to the U.S. consulate in Dubai, where they live.
Abdulwadoud al-Abbasi, a hotel manager from Sanaa who was accompanying the couple and was allowed to remain with them, had a relatively sympathetic account of the incident.
"Of course we were scared, but after speaking to them we realized that they weren’t al Qaeda or from the north," he told Reuters.
"They slaughtered sheep for us and gave us qat (a mild narcotic popular in Yemen) ... They told us: ’Our house is your house. We have a little problem with the government, just stay until it is resolved’."
The abductors were demanding the release of a relative jailed over a land dispute.
Although the kidnapping followed a well-worn ritual for tribal grievances, fears of lawlessness and violence have grown as al Qaeda seeks a foothold in Yemen while the government struggles to deal with rebellions in the north and south.
The local arm of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for an attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in December and, in 2008, an al Qaeda suicide bomber killed four South Korean tourists and two Yemeni guides visiting Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nine tourists were killed in other incidents in 2007 and 2008, and in an as yet unexplained incident, nine foreigners were kidnapped in northern Yemen last June, of whom three women, two Germans and a South Korean, were found dead.
Yemen’s struggling economy badly needs revenues from the tourists who still come to the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula for its rich history, rugged mountains and pristine beaches.
Abbasi said he had quickly understood that this abduction was less serious: "We calmed down the tourists when we understood this was an issue with the government that would eventually get resolved in one way or another ...
"People were not cruel like in some other areas. They had a demand and it was solved," Abbasi said. "On the second day the tribe’s sheikh arrived ... he was joking with the tourists to let them forget they were being held hostage."
He said locals had been apologetic for the hostages’ ordeal, taking them on tours of the surrounding mountains and explaining the area’s rich and ancient history.
"It was like it was still part of the tourism program. We went out and walked in the mountains and took pictures ... they even gave us their rifles to practice shooting with," Abbasi said.
"The consultations went on and on, so I went to sleep. When we woke up in the morning, the committee who resolved the dispute came and told us: ’You can go’."
The U.S. couple have returned to Dubai.