SANAA (AFP) – A Japanese engineer freed after nine days held hostage by tribesmen near the Yemeni capital Sanaa voiced his relief at his release and said he just wanted to see his wife and take a shower.
Sanaa governor Numan Duid said the release of Takeo Mashimo on Monday followed a pledge by Yemeni authorities that the case of a member of the kidnappers’ tribe held without charge would be examined.
As he emerged from a vehicle outside the Sanaa government building, Mashimo told a swarm of reporters he was “fine”. When asked what he wanted to do first, he said in images shown on Japanese television: “I want to see my wife.”
“I’m relieved that I was freed unharmed. Thank you,” the 63-year-old Mashimo told a press conference.
Speaking to someone on a mobile phone, he said: “I’m all right. I want to take a shower as I didn’t have one for nine days.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama welcomed the release, which came almost a week after a tribal leader in Yemen had mistakenly said Mashimo had been freed. Related article: Japan PM welcomes release of hostage in Yemen
“The Yemen government and the tribesmen did a very good job,” Hatoyama told reporters in Tokyo, according to Jiji Press.
Mashimo’s wife, 63-year-old Kyoko, told reporters in Tokyo after seeing him on television: “I was relieved as he looked good.”
“I want to have him drink alcohol and eat sashimi, his favorite food,” she said, according to the Kyodo news agency.
Tribes in Yemen, an impoverished country awash with weapons and gripped by domestic unrest, often kidnap foreigners to put pressure on local authorities.
Kyodo quoted the released hostage as saying by telephone: “At the beginning of the abduction, I felt very frightened as I was surrounded by many people armed with automatic rifles. As the days passed, I kept my cool.”
Sheikh Abdul Jalil, a tribal leader in Arhab, the area northeast of the capital where the kidnapping took place on November 15, had mistakenly announced the engineer’s release last Tuesday.
Tribal mediators had said the kidnappers were insisting on an exchange in which the detained Islamist member of their tribe would be freed.
A security official said the Islamist was a “dangerous element who has fought in Iraq and Nahr el-Bared”, a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, and was “difficult to let free”.
Hussein Abdullah Koub, 23, was jailed for a year by the US military in Iraq, before moving to Lebanon where he fought alongside Islamist militants against the Lebanese army in 2007, the official said.
He was later arrested in Syria before being taken into custody upon his return to Yemen.
Mediators said last week that Al-Qaeda militants had seized the hostage from his tribal kidnappers and moved him to an unknown location in the Maarib region of eastern Yemen.
But the Japanese embassy said he had not changed hands or been moved.
Mashimo is employed by a Tokyo-based consultancy working on the construction of an elementary school funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
More than 200 foreigners have been seized during the past 15 years, with most being freed unharmed.
But five Germans and a Briton, who were seized in June in the north of the country, are still missing with no word on their fate.
They were among nine people seized in the Saada region, the stronghold of Shiite rebels at war with the Sanaa government. The three others in the group — two Germans and a South Korean — were killed.
Two Japanese women were released unharmed in May 2008 after briefly being taken hostage by Yemeni tribesmen.