US citizens freed by Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen

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Two US citizens and the remains of a third were freed by Iranian-backed activists in Yemen, US officials said.

US citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada were released from Houthi custody on Wednesday, National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien said in a statement.

“We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fateen whose remains will also be repatriated,” he added, in an apparent reference to the deceased US citizen.

A plane waits to transport Houthi prisoners after being released by the Saudi-led coalition in Sayoun, Yemen, on Thursday. Ali Owidh / Reuters

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the news, describing the publication as part of a US-backed trade that returned more than 200 Houthi loyalists to the war-torn country. The State Department has not commented on a possible exchange, and NBC News has not independently confirmed that the release of the Americans was part of such a deal.

The State of Oman News Agency reported that following royal directives, US citizens were deported from the Yemeni capital Sana’a to the Omani capital of Muscat on board two Royal Air Force flights. of Oman. He added that a group of Yemeni patients who had been treated in the Gulf state had also been repatriated. NBC News was unable to confirm this information.

A news agency affiliated with the Houthi rebels, who have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition allied with the internationally recognized government since 2015, said Thursday that 283 wounded Houthis had returned to Yemen from Oman.

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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 release of the Americans.

U.S. officials gave little information about the three hostages, but Kash Patel, an assistant aide to President Donald Trump, told the Wall Street Journal that Loli, an aid worker, was held hostage for 16 months and Gidada, a businessman, was detained for over a year. NBC News has not independently verified all of these reports.

“I was living and working in Yemen and I was in prison for 899 days, two years and six months, in solitary confinement and it was hell, it was really hell. Bad, bad experience, ”Gidada told Oman TV upon arriving in Muscat.

Gidada and Loli both 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 assertion that President Trump remains committed to bringing all Americans held hostage or unjustly held overseas in their countries.”

Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized control of Sana’a from the internationally recognized government in 2014 and a Saudi-led military coalition intervened against the rebels the following year.

Since then, 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 The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Millions more are suffering from food shortages amid the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 80% of Yemen’s population depend on aid, with people forced to choose between food and medicine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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