RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia claimed Tuesday that Al Qaeda has taken responsibility for the kidnapping of a Saudi diplomat in Yemen last month and is demanding release of prisoners and a ransom payment.
Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said a Saudi citizen who is on the kingdom's most-wanted list of terror suspects relayed the demands by telephone to the Saudi embassy in Yemen, adding a threat to kill the captive.
Diplomat Abdullah al-Khaldi, the deputy consul at the Saudi consulate in Aden, was abducted in the Yemeni port city of Aden on March 28.
Abductions are frequent in Yemen, where armed tribesmen and militants take hostages to swap for prisoners or cash. The kidnappings are usually resolved peacefully.
Al-Turki said a Saudi terror suspect, Mashaal Rasheed al-Shawdakhi, has been in contact with the Saudi embassy in Sanaa for a number of times.
The Saudi official held the kidnappers responsible for the safety of the diplomat, urging them to release him.
This is the second incident of kidnapping of a Saudi diplomat in Yemen. Last year, tribesmen released a Saudi diplomat after 10 days over a financial dispute between a Saudi businessmen and the tribe.
Saudi Arabia and the rest of Gulf Cooperation Council countries have been heavily involved in a power transfer deal that forced Yemen's longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to relinquish power after a year of mass protests against his rule. Saleh stepped down in February and handed power to his deputy.
Yemen's political turmoil has caused a security vacuum in the country, which Al Qaeda has used to seize large swaths of territory in the south. In recent weeks, fighting between the militants and Yemen's military has intensified.
According to a transcript provided by the Saudi Interior Ministry, al-Shawdakhi asked first to meet with Saudi diplomats but then agreed to relay the demands over the phone.
The Islamic militant group is demanding release of top Al Qaeda prisoners, both Saudi and Yemeni, currently in Saudi jails, as well as half a dozen women prisoners held there, in return for the diplomat, he said, adding that the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen, Nasser al-Wahishi, appointed him to make the contacts.
Al-Shawdakhi identified the prisoners by name and said the group is also demanding a ransom payment. He did not say how much. He warned that the diplomat could be killed if the demands are not met.