Washington – Two Americans and the remnants of a third wheel of Iranian-backed militantswas released on Wednesday in exchange for the return of nearly 250 Houthi rebels from Oman, according to White House and regional officials.
News in Oman state said the American captives had been flown out of Yemen on an Omani plane, and the video broadcast Thursday of Omani TV showed U.S. nationals arriving in Muscat. It said 250 “Yemeni brothers” who received treatment in Oman had been returned to Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on two flights as part of the exchange.
“The United States welcomes the release of U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada from Houthi protection in Yemen today,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in a statement. “We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fateen, whose remains will also be taken home.”
O’Brien did not mention the exchange, but thanked the leaders of Oman and Saudi Arabia for their help in securing the release of the Americans.
A U.S. official told CBS News Christina Ruffini that the State Department had been working to ensure the release of Americans for a long time, and called for their release of good news.
Kieran Ramsey, director of the Trump administration’s hostage recovery cell, said Loli and Gidada would soon return to the United States.
“Sadly, one of these Americans died in his unlawful captivity,” Ramsey said.
Kash Patel, a deputy aide to President Donald Trump working on the deal, told The Wall Street Journal that Loli had been held by the Houthis for nearly three years and Gidada had been captured for almost a year.
when Houthi rebels occupied Sanaa in 2014 from a recognized international government. A coalition led by Saudi government allies has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015.
The war in Yemen has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, leaving millions suffering from food and medical malnutrition. It killed more than 112,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to a database project that tracks violence.
According to the newspaper, Saudi officials said they were reluctant to return the agreement as it would allow dozens of Houthi militants trained in advanced drones and missiles to return to the battle zone.
Mohamed Abdel-Salam, a spokesman for-backs militants, also confirmed that almost 240 rebels returned to Sanaa on two Omani flights. Among those who returned were wounded rebels who traveled to Muscat during a peace talks in Sweden two years ago.
When contacted by The Associated Press, Abdel-Salam declined to comment on the release of the two Americans.
The release of the Americans came a day before a planned UN-brokered exchange of more than 1,000 prisoners between the Houthis and the recognized international government. The UN said in September that the two sides of the conflict had agreed to exchange 1,081 prisoners associated with the conflict, including Saudi and Sudanese troops fighting on the Saudi-led coalition.