Swiss woman’s captors: Free bin Laden’s wives

A bid to release a Swiss woman kidnapped in Yemen has suffered a blow after her abductors made excessive demands, including for Osama bin Laden's widows to be freed, a tribal chief said on Thursday.

Yemen's capital, Sanaa
Craig BCN (File)

Al-Qaeda militants abducted the woman on March 14th from her home in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, where she had been teaching at a foreign language institute.

She was taken to far eastern Shabwa province.

Tribal chief Ali Abdullah Zibari said, however, that mediation efforts had so far failed because of excessive demands placed by her captors, including the release of bin Laden’s widows held in Pakistan.

Zibari said the Islamic extremists also demanded the release of several women held in Iraq and Saudi Arabia in return for the Swiss captive.  

“Their initial demands for the release of (former Al-Qaeda chief) Osama bin Laden’s wives held in Pakistan were rejected by Yemeni officials last week,” Zibari told AFP, adding the group then placed new conditions for the Swiss woman’s return.

“Now they’re demanding the release of 100 Al-Qaeda affiliated militants from Yemeni jails and €50 million ($66 million)… at which point the mediation efforts failed because of the prohibitive demands,” he said.

Zibari played a crucial role in the release last November of three French aid workers kidnapped by Al-Qaeda and held for five months.

Shabwa province is a stronghold of Al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, the Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), which has expanded its influence in recent months, taking advantage of the political turmoil that has swept the country and forced the resignation of veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Kidnappings were common even before the uprising against Saleh’s rule that began last year.

More than 200 people have been abducted in Yemen over the past 15 years, many of them by members of the country’s powerful tribes who use them as bargaining chips with the authorities.

Almost all of those kidnapped were later freed unharmed.

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UN mulls sending staff back to Yemen

The death toll from fighting in Yemen since late March has topped 1,000, the United Nations said in Geneva on Thursday, saying it wanted to quickly send international staff back to the country.

Fighting and airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition "have impacted virtually the entire country," UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Johannes Van Der Klaauw said in a statement.
"The toll on civilians has been immense," he added.
At least 1,080 people had been killed in the country, including 48 children and 28 women, and a further 4,352 people had been injured in the violence between March 19th and April 20th, according to the latest toll from the Geneva-based World Health Organization.
WHO receives its statistics from health facilities in Yemen, but since many people are not making it to hospitals for treatment the real numbers are probably higher.
The latest toll was published as Saudi-led coalition warplanes launched new strikes on Yemen despite a demand by Iran-backed Huthi rebels for a complete halt to the raids as a condition for UN-sponsored peace talks.
WHO said the fighting so far had proved deadliest in the region around the capital Sanaa, where 209 people, including 21 children and five women had been killed.
Another 936 people had been injured there.
In the main southern city of Aden, 191 people have been killed, including two children, and another 1,237 injured.
More than 150,000 people have also been displaced inside Yemen by the conflict, Van Der Klaauw said.
He warned that the violence had "worsened an already large-scale humanitarian crisis" in the country, where more than 300,000 people were already internally displaced before the latest round of fighting erupted.
WHO warned earlier this week that the country's health system was on the verge of collapse amid shortages of medical supplies and fuel for generators.
Already, "cases of bloody diarrhoea, measles and suspected malaria have increased," Van Der Klaauw said.
The conflict has also disrupted the supply of food, fuel, water and electricity across Yemen, he said, lamenting that schools, health facilities and private homes had been damaged and destroyed and that some two million children were out of school.
To help address the towering needs, the UN, which evacuated its international staff from Yemen at the end of March, was "exploring ways of redeploying (them) in the coming days," he said.

On Frida, the UN's children's agency said at least 115 children have been killed and 172 maimed in the violence raging in Yemen since Saudi-led air strikes began.

"We believe that these are conservative figures," Unicef spokesman Christophe Boulierac told reporters in Geneva, saying at least 64 of the children killed were victims of air strikes.