Gunmen snatch three Westerners in Yemen capital

SANAA Fri Dec 21, 2012 3:01pm EST

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SANAA (Reuters) - Gunmen abducted a Finnish couple and a Austrian man in the centre of Sanaa on Friday, a security official told Reuters, just two days after a major overhaul of the armed forces in a drive to bring stability to the impoverished country.

"People saw a car stop in Tahrir Square, militants snatching three Westerners and speeding away," the official said.

"The abductors didn't reveal their affiliation or demands,"

Police were searching for the gunmen who abducted the Westerners, who were all studying Arabic in Yemen, he said.

Kidnappings of Westerners occur sporadically in Yemen, mostly carried out by Al Qaeda militants and tribesmen.

Lawlessness in the Arabian Peninsula state has alarmed its neighbor and top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States, which increasingly views Yemen as a front line in its struggle against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

This week's overhaul of the armed forces by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi is widely seen as an effort to curb the still considerable influence of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

It could also help loosen his family's grip on the military and implement an internationally-backed plan to restore stability.

Hadi's government is also grappling with the threat of al Qaeda and a growing secessionist movement in the south.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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