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An American Citizen Has Died in Custody in Yemen — And No One Knows What Happened

John Hamen, along with an unnamed second American, was detained by local officials in the Houthi rebel-controlled city of Sanaa upon arrival on a UN chartered flight on October 20. Little had been heard on their condition since.

by Samuel Oakford
Nov 10 2015, 6:45pm

By Yahya Arhab/EPA

A little over two weeks after being detained at Sanaa's airport, an American citizen reportedly working as a contractor in the Yemeni capital has died under unclear circumstances, the State Department confirmed on Tuesday.

John Hamen, along with an unnamed second American, was detained by local officials in the Houthi rebel-controlled city upon arrival on a UN chartered flight on October 20. Little had been heard on their condition since.

"We can confirm that US citizen John Hamen died in Yemen," State Department William Cocks told VICE News in an email on Tuesday. "We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends."

"Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Hamen's family, we do not have any additional details to provide," he said.

Related: Nearly 40,000 Displaced After Cyclone Chapala Slams Into Yemen

Cocks also said he could not provide any information about the second American who remains in custody. 

Hamen's Linkedin profile lists his profession as "Diplomatic Support." The Cincinnati, Ohio, native's profile says he previously served as a master sergeant in the US army, worked as a communications observer and trainer at US Special Operations Command, and was a member of the group Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans. Among the top skills listed on his profile are "Security Clearance" and "Top Secret."

A GoFundme crowdsourcing page set up by his family said Hamen was the father of seven children and died "2 weeks, 3 days" after being detained. That would indicate he passed away late last week . The page also referenced stories that "falsely accused" Hamen of "being a CIA agent or spy."

A separate post dated November 7 on a Facebook page bearing Hamen's name said that "his body will arrive in Dover in less than 48 hours."

Earlier this month, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the two men were not directly contracted by the organization, but that they worked for a company "that manages the facility that the UN uses in Sana'a."

Related: Saudi Arabia Can't Get Its Story Straight on the MSF Hospital Destroyed in Yemen

"Contractors from the same company had been flown into Sana'a by the UN before without any incident," said Dujarric. On Tuesday, Dujarric told reporters that the UN had been informed by the State Department of Hamen's death, and said he believed the other contractor was still detained. He shared no further information.

A Saudi-led coalition has targeted the Houthis and their allies loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh since late March. While the US does not consider itself a member of the coalition, its military provides intelligence and "targeting assistance" to the coalition, and has refueled its planes more than 2,100 times.

VICE News was working Tuesday to confirm further details surrounding Hamen's death, and the condition of the second American citizen in custody.

The Houthis and their allies have been accused of gross human rights violations. The rebels routinely carry out arbitrary detentions, including of political activists.

"The Houthis have made a habit of 'disappearing' people they deem objectionable," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in September.

Watch the VICE News documentary Yemen: A Failed State: