Yemeni security forces freed two Westerners unharmed on Tuesday shortly after they were kidnapped by gunmen in the capital Sanaa, in an incident highlighting the growing security threat in the country, sources told CNN.
Yemen seems to be a common place for kidnapping, as foreign nationals are used as bargaining chips in their dealings with the central government. Over the last few months, mainly militants who have turned to kidnapping for huge financial gains have kidnapped several foreigners.
Presently, the government is struggling with Islamists directly tied to al Qaeda, who are fighting in the country's north and create sporadic conflicts with armed tribes. The al Qaeda presence in the Arabian Peninsula is believed by many analysts to be the most dangerous affiliate of the terror network.
Police said that the security officials tracked the two kidnappers to a house where they were holding the Westerners, and were able to free them without incident after they surrounded the home.
They also said one of the Westerners was a diplomat for the United Nations and the other was a woman.
Local residents said they heard gunshots in the area, but an initial exchange of fire was followed by negotiations, the police sources said, before the hostages were released.
The two victims were grabbed earlier on Tuesday when the kidnappers stopped their car in the Hada district of Sanaa, an area where many diplomatic missions are located, and oddly enough, considered one of the safest and heavy guarded areas in Sanaa, police sources said.
The senior Interior Ministry official spoke on condition of anonymity, and released a statement announcing the hostage incident in Sanaa "has ended after Yemeni forces freed an Italian national."
"The kidnappers were detained by the authorities," it said in a statement.
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