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UAE Forces Rescue British Al-Qaida Hostage in Yemen

  • VOA News

FILE - British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond delivers his speech at Peking University in Beijing, Aug. 12, 2015.

FILE - British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond delivers his speech at Peking University in Beijing, Aug. 12, 2015.

Forces from the United Arab Emirates rescued a British national Saturday in a "military intelligence operation" 18 months after he was kidnapped by al-Qaida militants in eastern Yemen.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed the rescue in a statement Sunday.

"The British national is safe and well, and is receiving support from British government officials," Hammond said. "We are very grateful for the assistance of the UAE."

The Foreign Office did not give the hostage's name, but the UAE's WAM news agency identified him Sunday as Douglas Robert Semple, 64.

Flown to Abu Dhabi

The report said he was taken in February 2014 in Hadramount while working as a petroleum engineer, and, after being rescued Sunday, was taken first to the southern port city of Aden and then flown to Abu Dhabi.

Al-Qaida has not had a big role in the ongoing conflict between Yemen's government and Houthi rebels, but it has seized on the overall instability in the country in recent years to seize their own territory.

Pro-government forces recaptured control of Aden from the Houthis several weeks ago, but al-Qaida militants have since taken portions of the city, including on Saturday seizing the Tawahi district.

Officials said the militants set off a bomb that destroyed the secret police headquarters there.

The United States considers the Yemen affiliate, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to be the terror group's most dangerous branch.

A campaign of U.S. airstrikes targeting AQAP has killed a number of its senior leaders.

The Iranian-backed Houthis seized the Yemeni capital of Sana'a in September 2014, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to Aden.

The Houthis then pushed south and captured Aden, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi-led coalition

The Saudis responded by organizing a coalition to conduct airstrikes against the Houthis, and have since sent heavy weapons to help pro-government fighters make some progress on the ground.

But the airstrikes and ground combat have created a humanitarian calamity in Yemen.

The United Nations said about 4,500 people have been killed and 80 percent of Yemeni civilians desperately need food, medicine and other humanitarian aid.

U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien calls the scale of suffering in Yemen "incomprehensible" and warns that unless the fighting ends soon, "there will be nothing left to fight for."

U.N. efforts to broker a peace deal in Yemen have so far failed.