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Houthi Rebels Free Two Americans and Other Hostages Held for Months in Yemen

The White House confirmed that two US citizens held in Yemen have arrived in Oman, but a third American is reportedly still being held.
September 20, 2015, 7:20pm
Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA

Two US citizens held in Yemen have been freed and have arrived in Oman, the White House said on Sunday, following reports Yemen's Houthi group had released three Westerners it held for months, including two from the US and one from Britain.

Their release was arranged with the help of Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, a spokesman for the National Security Council said in a statement, which also urged immediate resumption of peace talks aimed at ending fighting in Yemen.

The two freed US citizens are Scott Darden, 45, an employee of a Louisiana-based logistics company, and Sam Farran, 54, a security consultant from Michigan, according to the Washington Post. The paper also reported that a third American, a 35-year-old convert to Islam, was still being held for reasons that were unclear.

The three freed men were flown to Muscat, Oman's capital. Citing a briefing from Houthi officials, the New York Times reported that two Saudis were also freed on Sunday.

Darden had been helping oversee the transport of humanitarian supplies in Yemen for New Orleans-based Transoceanic Development, which confirmed his release. Darden's wife Diana Loesch posted on Facebook: "It's official my husband has finally been freed and Yemen and he's on his way to Muscat!!!"

Darden's mother, Pat Darden of Atlanta, referred questions to a family spokesman. "We have grateful hearts," she said, adding that today is her birthday. "It was a great birthday gift."

Related: Warzones Risk Creating a Lost Generation of Children in the Middle East and North Africa

Also on Sunday, the Saudi-led military coalition denied that its warplanes bombed the Omani ambassador's home in Yemen's capital Sanaa and called for an investigation into the incident, Saudi media reported.

The Omani foreign ministry summoned the Saudi ambassador in Muscat on Saturday and handed him a protest letter over the airstrikes, which the state news agency ONA said had targeted the residence of its ambassador to Yemen.

The coalition's military spokesman, Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri, said Saturday's air strikes had targeted the Yemeni Interior Ministry building, but not the Omani ambassador's residence, the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat said.

The ministry had been turned into a military operations center for the Houthis, the daily said. Asharq al-Awsat quoted Asiri as saying the coalition would welcome an investigation and suggested the house may have been hit by a Houthi mortar shell. "One would be able from the beginning to distinguish between a mortar strike and a plane strike," he said.

Oman, one of six countries in Gulf Cooperation Council which also groups Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, has been neutral in the conflict in Yemen. Yemeni sources said that a Houthi delegation left Sanaa on Sunday for talks with the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Related: Leaked UN Email on Yemen Shows Difficulty of Negotiations — and Fears Over Al Qaeda's Growing Presence

Residents said about 10 airstrikes were launched on the Interior Ministry building in the north of the capital, a police camp close to it and a military building.

The Houthi-run Saba news agency said on Sunday the total of people killed in Saturday's airstrikes had risen to 40 with 130 more injured, and prompted the health ministry to issue an urgent appeal for medical supplies.

Sanaa residents on Sunday reported a calm night, but local officials in the central province of Ibb said 10 people were killed and 15 others injured there in airstrikes targeting a government compound dedicated to fighting al Qaeda.

The coalition sees the Houthis as proxies for non-Arab Iran, which they accuse of trying to expand its influence into Saudi Arabia's Arab neighbors. Iran denies those allegations.

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