SANAA, (Reuters) – Two Austrian tourists were freed on Saturday by kidnappers in Yemen who had seized them to press the government to release fellow tribesmen jailed for trying to go to Iraq to fight U.S. forces, Yemeni officials said.
The Austrians were in good health and had been taken to a hotel in the mountainous Marib province, where they were kidnapped on Wednesday by members of the Abidah tribe, said an Interior Ministry statement.
"The two Austrians … will continue their tourist programme in Yemen. Police are searching for the kidnappers," it said.
Tribal sources said negotiators, including senior Abidah tribesmen, had succeeded in convincing the kidnappers that the government would look into their demands.
It was not clear if the jailed tribesmen were linked to Islamist groups such as al Qaeda, which is involved in an insurgency in Iraq and has sympathisers in Yemen.
Yemen opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and many Yemenis are angry at what they consider to be U.S. occupation of Arab land.
Armed tribal groups in Yemen, a poor country at the tip of the Arabian peninsula where central government control is weak in many areas, often seize tourists. They are usually freed unharmed after negotiations.
After the kidnapping, the U.S. embassy posted a statement on its Web site saying it had restricted travel for all its personnel to Marib and the northern province of Saada, scene of a clash last month between government forces and Shi”ite rebels.
Two Swiss tourists were kidnapped last month but later released unharmed. A tribal leader freed the two after receiving a promise from Yemeni officials that they would look into the case of his imprisoned brother.