An offensive by Yemeni forces aimed at freeing three Western hostages has been suspended. The offensive has cost at least 66 killed. The suspension is to allow tribal mediators to attempt to secure release of the hostages.
The offensive killed 48 Al-Qaeda linked militants in an Al Qaeda stronghold in Bayda province of central Yemen according to both tribal sources and military officials. The hostages are two Finns and an Austrian who were seized in the capital Sanaa back in September. Authorities believe that the three are being held in the Al Qaeda stronghold of Manaseh.
Tribal chiefs were able to negotiate a ceasefire but the army was demanding all foreign Al Qaeda fighters leave Manaseh. Local observers said that as well as the Al Qaeda militants and Yemeni army fighters who were killed, army shelling of the area had also killed a number of civilians but no number was given.
Two brothers of an Al Qaeda leader killed in an attack a year ago are thought to be holding the hostages but so far they have not agreed to surrender the hostages even though there had been efforts at mediation. However, there is some doubt about who actually has the hostages since earlier in January Yemeni security officials claimed that the hostages were being held in the eastern province of Marib by Al-Qaeda-linked tribesmen.
Whenever, hostages are taken, the tribes involved seem to be routinely said to be Al-Qaeda-linked but often they simply have disputes with the central government and use hostages as leverage in negotiations. Over the years, hundreds have been abducted in Yemen. Usually, they are eventually freed.
Al Qaeda militants are most active in the south and east of Yemen but do not usually carry out kidnappings, although a Saudi diplomat has been kept by Al Qaeda since he was abducted in the southern port city of Aden March 28 last year.
In a separate series of clashes in the south between, the Yemen Defense Ministry claims that 8 Al Qaeda militants have been killed and six members of a local pro-government militia were also killed. The local militia and the military have been attempting to drive the militants from a mountainous stronghold called al-Maraksha in Abyan province. After being driven from areas occupied after the 2011 uprising, militants have retreated to the mountains or operate underground mounting constant guerrilla type terrorist attacks against security forces and others.
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