Saudi releases al-Qaeda linked women detainees

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia Mon Jul 23, 2012 5:07am EDT

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Five al Qaeda-linked women detainees have been freed by Saudi authorities but the move was not linked to demands by the al Qaeda captors of a Saudi diplomat in Yemen, the government said on Monday.

Abdullah al-Khalidi, the Saudi deputy consul in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, was kidnapped outside his residence on March 28. His captors demanded a ransom and the release of detainees held in Saudi prisons but the government said in April that it could not negotiate with al Qaeda.

Khalidi has appeared in two videos since then, posted on the internet, begging King Abdullah to meet his captors' demand for the release of women detainees.

"Release those women, they release me the next day," he said in the second video posted earlier this month.

The women, who were held by Saudi security services, are relatives of al Qaeda fighters, Khalidi said.

Asked if they were released to meet the demands of Khalidi's captors, Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki said: "The investigation bureau and public prosecution office decided to release two of the women detainees by court order as they were (pregnant) and close to their due dates."

The other three were released on bail on Saturday pending trial, he said. One more woman detainee is serving a jail sentence.

In April, a militant who claimed responsibility for Khalidi's kidnapping threatened to kill him unless a ransom was paid and al Qaeda prisoners were freed from Saudi jails.

"We cannot consider this release as heeding to demands of the captors because, on principal, states do not accept to be subject to blackmail," said a Saudi official who declined to be named.

"There was a coincidence between the release of the women detainees on humanitarian grounds and the demands of the captors."

The government hopes the move will prompt Khalidi's captors to release him on humanitarian grounds, the official said.

The United States and its Gulf Arab allies have watched with mounting alarm as Islamist fighters, emboldened by political instability in Yemen, gained ground in the south of the country in the past year.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - the name of the al Qaeda group operating in Yemen - is seen by U.S. officials as the most dangerous offshoot of the global militant network.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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