Two United States nationals and the remains of a third have been released by Iranian-backed fighters in Yemen, US officials said.
U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada were released from Houthi’s arrest on Wednesday, National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien said in a statement.
“We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fatein, whose remains will also be repatriated,” he added in an obvious reference to the dead US citizen.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news, describing the release as part of a US-backed trade that returned more than 200 Houthi loyalists to the war-torn country. The State Department did not comment on a possible trade, and NBC News did not confirm whether the release of the Americans was part of such a deal.
The State News Agency of Oman reported that following the royal directives, American citizens were flown from the capital of Yemen, Sanaa, to the capital of Oman, Muscat, aboard two flights of the Royal Air Force of Oman. He added that a group of Yemeni patients treated in the Gulf state had also been repatriated. NBC News was unable to confirm these reports.
A news agency linked to Houthi rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition allied with the internationally recognized government since 201
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O’Brien did not mention any exchanges, but thanked the leaders of Oman and Saudi Arabia for their help in securing the liberation of the Americans.
U.S. officials gave little information about the three hostages, but Kash Patel, an aide to President Donald Trump, told the Wall Street Journal that Loli, a humanitarian worker, had been held hostage for 16 months and that Gidada, a businessman, had been held more than a year. NBC News did not check independently all this reporting.
“I lived and worked in Yemen and was in prison for 899 days, 2 years and 6 months, in solitary confinement and it was hell, it really was hell. Bad, bad experience,” Gidada told Oman TV on his arrival in Muscat.
Both Gidada and Loli thanked the Sultan of Oman.
“I am so grateful and so happy today,” Loli told Oman TV.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that Wednesday’s news was “the latest confirmation that President Trump continues to commit to the return of any American held hostage or illegally detained abroad.”
Iran-backed Hussein-backed rebels took control of Sanaa from the internationally recognized government in 2014, and the Saudi-militant coalition intervened against the rebels the following year.
Since then, it has been estimated that more than 112,000 people have died as a direct result of the violence, including more than 12,000 civilians killed in targeted attacks, according to a draft data on the location of armed conflicts and events.
According to the UN, millions more are suffering from food shortages in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. About 80 percent of Yemen’s population depends on aid, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and people are forced to choose between food and medicine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.