Washington “Two Americans and the remains of a third held captive by Iranian-backed fighters.”were released on Wednesday in exchange for the return of about 250 Houthi rebels from Oman, according to the White House and regional authorities.
Oman’s state news reports that US prisoners have been dumped from Yemen on an Omani plane, and a video broadcast on Oman TV on Thursday shows US citizens arriving in Muscat. It says 250 “Yemeni brothers” were treated in Oman, were returned to the Yemeni capital Sanaa on two flights as part of the stock exchange.
“The United States welcomes the release today of US citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada of Houthi’s arrest in Yemen,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said in a statement. “We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fatein, whose remains will also be repatriated.”
O’Brien did not mention the exchange, but thanked the leaders of Oman and Saudi Arabia for their help in securing the liberation of the Americans.
A U.S. official told CBS News’s Christina Rufini that the State Department has been working to secure the release of Americans for a long time, and called their release great news.
Kieran Ramsey, director of the Trump administration’s hostage recovery unit, said Loli and Gidada would soon return to the United States.
“It is tragic that one of these Americans died during his illegal captivity,” Ramsey said.
Kash Patel, a presidential aide to President Donald Trump who worked on the deal, told The Wall Street Journal that Loli had been held by the Hutus for about three years and Gidada had been held captive for about a year.
when the Houthi rebels took over Sanaa in 2014 from an internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Hutus since March 2015.
The war in Yemen has sparked the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, leaving millions suffering from food and medicine shortages. He killed more than 112,000 people, including militants and civilians, according to a database project that tracks the violence.
According to the newspaper, the Saudi authorities said they were reluctant to support the deal, as it would allow dozens of Houthi fighters trained on advanced drones and missiles to return to the battle zone.
Mohamed Abdel-Salam, spokesman forbacked by fighters, they also confirmed that about 240 rebels had returned to Sanaa with two Omani flights. Among those returned were wounded rebels traveling to Muscat during peace talks in Sweden two years ago.
When contacted by the Associated Press, Abdel-Salam declined to comment on the release of the two Americans.
The release of the Americans came a day before a planned UN-mediated exchange of more than 1,000 prisoners between the Hutus and the internationally recognized government. In September, the UN said the two warring parties had agreed to exchange 1,081 conflict-related prisoners, including Saudi and Sudanese troops, fighting on the side of the Saudi-led coalition.