Two United States citizens and the remains of a third have been released by Iranian-backed militants in Yemen, U.S. officials say.
U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikel Gidada were released from Huthi custody on Wednesday, National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien said in a statement.
Deceased U.S. In a clear reference to the citizen, he added, “We extend our condolences to the family of Bilal Faten, whose remains will also be returned.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on the first news, describing the release as part of a US-backed trade, in which more than 200 Houthi loyalists returned to the war-torn nation. The State Department did not comment on the potential trade, and NBC News did not independently confirm that the release of the Americans was part of such a deal.
Oman’s state news agency reported that American citizens were boarded on two Royal Air Force flights from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, to the Oman capital, Muscat, following royal instructions. He added that a group of Yemeni patients receiving treatment in the Gulf state had also returned. NBC News has not been able to confirm these reports.
A news agency linked to the rebels, which has been fighting a Saudi-led coalition with an internationally recognized government since 2015, said on Thursday that 283 wounded Houthis had returned to Yemen from Oman.
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O’Brien did not mention any exchange, but thanked the leaders of Oman and Saudi Arabia for helping to free the Americans.
U.S. officials provided little information about the three hostages, but President Donald Trump’s deputy aide, Kush Patel, told the Wall Street Journal that a humanitarian activist named Loli had been held hostage for 16 months and that a businessman named Gidada had been kidnapped. For more than a year, NBC News has not independently verified all of these reports.
“I lived and worked in Yemen and spent 899 days, two years and six months in prison, and in solitary confinement and it was hell, it was really hell. Bad, bad experience,” Gidada told Oman TV as he arrived in Muscat.
Both Gidada and Loli thanked the Sultan of Oman.
“I am very appreciative and very happy today,” Loli told Oman TV.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday’s news that “the latest confirmation that President Trump is committed to holding every American hostage or returning home from wrongful detention abroad.”
The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels gained control of Sanaa in 2014 from an internationally recognized government, and the following year a Saudi-led military alliance intervened against the rebels.
More than 112,000 people are then estimated to have died as a direct result of the violence, including more than 12,000 civilians in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
Millions of people are suffering from food shortages in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, an estimated 100 percent of Yemen’s population is dependent on aid, forcing people to choose between food and medicine.
The Associated Press contributes to this report.