Plans to free seized Saudi envoy fall through: source

ADEN Sun Aug 12, 2012 12:57pm EDT

ADEN (Reuters) - The planned release of a Saudi Arabian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen fell through on Sunday when al Qaeda-linked militants refused at the last minute to hand him over to mediators, a tribal source said.

Abdallah al-Khalidi, the deputy consul in the Saudi consulate in the Yemeni port city of Aden, was kidnapped in May by Islamist militants demanding a ransom and the release of women prisoners held in the kingdom.

Earlier on Sunday, tribal chief Tareq al-Fadli told Reuters that Khalidi had been released late on Saturday after a mediation by local tribal leaders. He did not give details.

But later in the day, a tribal source told Reuters the kidnappers had delayed Khalidi's release saying they needed to hold more talks among themselves.

"The tribal negotiators were surprised at the last minute when they were told by the kidnappers that the handover of the Saudi diplomat was postponed to a later time," the source said, without giving further details.

A militant who claimed responsibility for the abduction had threatened to kill Khalidi unless a ransom was paid and al Qaeda prisoners were freed from Saudi jails.

Last month, five al Qaeda-linked women detainees were freed by Saudi authorities. Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turkis stressed at the time that the move was not linked to the demands of Khalidi's captors.

Kidnappings are common in Yemen, frequently in the context of regional or tribal disputes with Yemeni authorities. The victims are sometimes held for ransom, particularly if they are foreigners.

Yemen has been in turmoil since popular protests broke out last year and led to the ousting of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Khalidi had appeared in two videos posted on the Internet after his abduction begging King Abdullah to meet his captors' demand for the release of women detainees.

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

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, 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 Mohammed Mukhashaf; writing by Mahmoud Habboush and Rania El Gamal; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Alessandra Rizzo)

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