Saudi diplomat kidnapped by Qaeda in Yemen released

Freed after three years in captivity

RIYADH - A Saudi diplomat kidnapped in Yemen almost three years ago and handed to Al-Qaeda has been freed and returned to the kingdom, the interior ministry said Monday.
Abdullah al-Khalidi, deputy consul in the southern port city of Aden, who was kidnapped on March 28, 2012, was freed following "intense efforts" by the Saudi intelligence services, a ministry statement carried by the official SPA news agency said without elaborating.
Less than one month after his abduction, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) demanded the freeing of all its members detained in Saudi Arabia as well as a ransom in exchange for the diplomat's release.
His captors initially asked for $10 million but later doubled the ransom demand to $20 million, a tribal mediator said in August 2012.
The release of Khalidi was the fruit of a tribal mediation led by dignitaries from the southern province of Shabwa, a tribal source told AFP.
The captors agreed after three weeks of negotiations to free Khalidi for a ransom, the source said, without disclosing the value.
AFP could not verify this claim with any independent sources.
The Saudi interior ministry said the diplomat had been handed over to Al-Qaeda "in a suspicious deal" after his kidnap in Aden.
He "will undergo medical examinations and be reunited with his family," SPA said.
Khalidi has made several video pleas urging the Saudi government to secure his release.
AQAP was formed from a merger of the jihadist network's Yemeni and Saudi branches and is regarded by Washington as its most dangerous arm.
In recent years, it has carried out a growing number of abductions, with several hostages still in captivity.
It is still holding Iranian embassy staffer Nour-Ahmad Nikbakht who was abducted in July last year.
In December, AQAP shot dead American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie during an abortive attempt by US commandos to rescue them from the hideout in southeastern Yemen where they were being held.
Powerful local tribes also frequently kidnap foreigners in a bid to extract concessions from Yemeni authorities.
Last week, a French woman and her local guide, development workers for a project funded by the World Bank in Yemen, were kidnapped in Sanaa by unidentified armed men. Their fate remains unclear.
Yemen has descended into further chaos since a Shiite militia seized power in Sanaa last month, prompting President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the captial for Aden after escaping house arrest.
Several Gulf Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, have shut their embassies in Sanaa, reopening them instead in Aden since Thursday.
Saudi Arabia itself witnessed a wave of deadly attacks by Al-Qaeda between 2003 and 2006, which prompted authorities to launch a crackdown on the local branch of the jihadist network founded by slain Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.