SAN’A, Yemen (AP) – Two Germans who were held hostage for five days by Yemeni tribesmen left the country Tuesday on their way home, an airport official said.
The couple left without their daughter, Julia Thielebein, an aid worker who was kidnapped with them on Dec. 15 and also freed. She remained behind in Yemen, where she lives with her husband, a Spanish businessman, in the capital.
A friend of Thielebein who visited her at her home in San’a since her release said Thielebein was deeply shaken by the abduction and was considering leaving the country.
It has not been possible to contact the freed hostages directly since their release on Friday.
The friend quoted Thielebein as saying that armed tribesmen led them to a mountainous area in Dhamar province, located about 65 miles (105 kilometers) south of the capital, where they spent five days inside a dark and cold cave. They had tattered bed coverings, no bathroom and were forced to eat meat, though the three are vegetarians, the friend said.
The friend, who is Yemeni, did not want to be identified by name because of concerns over security.
The three Germans were released Friday after the Yemeni government agreed to pay a ransom of thousands of dollars and to free some tribesmen from prison.
The aid worker’s parents left Yemen Tuesday on a flight to Frankfurt via Istanbul, according to the airport official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press.
Yemeni tribes have in the past seized foreigners, either tourists or those residing or working in the country, to pressure the Yemeni government to meet their demands, mainly to free clan members from jail. In most cases the kidnappings are resolved and the hostages freed.
Yemen is the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula. It is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, but it also is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden’s family, and al-Qaida loyalists are active in the country.
Thielebein’s friend said the woman has lost her sense of security in a country where she worked for a decade advocating environmental protection for a German organization called GTZ that is involved in sustainable development projects.
“Her bumper sticker reads, ‘Don’t waste water … life is drop by drop,”‘ her friend said, indicating it was a sign of her devotion to Yemen and its environment. “Now she is terrified and pondering a farewell.”