World

Australia says its citizen freed in Yemen with Oman's help

Australia's Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that an Australian citizen kidnapped in Yemen last year has been released following assistance by the sultanate of Oman.

Oman's Foreign Ministry said the country helped free the Australian citizen with the help of Yemeni tribal leaders. Its statement, carried by the state-run Oman News Agency, said the Australian had been "missing" in Yemen. It said the Australian government requested Oman's assistance in facilitating his safe passage.

The man was not named in either statement and it was not immediately known whether a ransom had been paid.

A Yemeni security official told The Associated Press that tribal mediation led to the release of the Australian citizen after a ransom was paid, without offering further details on the amount.

Tribal leaders close to the mediation process said a "foreign party" paid the ransom through the tribal mediators and that of two other hostages whose release had been part of the negotiations, an Indian priest and a Greek man. The official and tribal leaders spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the release and for security concerns.

Over the past months, several videos had surfaced online purporting to show an Australian kidnapped in Yemen. In footage in January, the man gives his name as Craig McAllister while a rifle is seen pointed at his head. He says his captors will kill him if their demands are not met. The man, who apparently had been working there as a football coach, does not say who his captors are or specify their demands.

At the time, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, Australia, only said it was providing consular assistance to the family of an Australian man kidnapped in Yemen.

Yemeni security officials said McAllister was taken in early October in the capital, Sanaa, but that his captors remain unknown. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to reporters. Sanaa is controlled by a Yemen's Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies, who overran the capital in late 2014.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday the Australian was "safe and well" following "months of patient work" by the Australian government. Bishop also expressed appreciation for the efforts of Oman's ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said, whose country located the missing Australian citizen and facilitated his passage into Oman.

Australia's government, along with many others around the world, strongly discourages its citizens from travelling to Yemen.

War-torn Yemen on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is facing more than six years of political turmoil and a Saudi-led war against the Houthis. Militant groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have taken advantage of the chaos, seizing territory and launching attacks.

There have been multiple kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen by various factions over the past years, demanding payment in exchange for a release.

Oman has played a mediating role in the region, and is not part of the Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries bombing the Houthis. The country has helped facilitate the release of other hostages in Yemen, including two U.S. citizens who were flown to the sultanate in October following negotiations between Omani officials and Yemeni authorities in Sanaa.

Oman, a U.S. ally, maintains warm relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors and nearby Iran. The country was also credited last year with helping to secure the release of a French-Tunisian woman working for the Red Cross who had been kidnapped by armed men in Yemen and held for nearly a year.

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Associated Press Writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen contributed to this report.