Yemeni official says diplomat's body found, but Iranian report denies it

SANAA Sat Jan 25, 2014 10:06am EST

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SANAA (Reuters) - An Iranian embassy official kidnapped in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in July was found beheaded in central Yemen on Saturday, a provincial official said.

But Iran's Student News Agency (ISNA) quoted an Iranian embassy official as denying that the headless body belonged to the missing employee, kidnapped by armed men while he was travelling through the diplomatic quarter of Sanaa in July.

"Yemen officials have announced they are still following up on release as soon as possible of Noor Ahmad Nikbakht and according to (their) latest information he is in good health," ISNA said.

The Yemeni official, who asked not be named, said local people found the body of the diplomat in an area of oil fields in northern Maarib province.

Local residents had apparently been in contact with the kidnappers, who had been moving him around the area in recent weeks, he said.

The official said the condition of the body suggested the diplomat had been killed at least a day earlier. The body was taken for forensic examination in Sanaa.

Last week, an Iranian diplomat was fatally injured when he resisted gunmen who tried to kidnap him while he was travelling in a car near the ambassador's residence in Sanaa.

Kidnapping of foreigners in Yemen is common, often carried out by disgruntled tribesmen seeking to press the government to free jailed relatives or to improve public services, or by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda.

Iran is the leading Shi'ite Muslim power in the Middle East, and its diplomatic missions in the Arab world have sometimes been targeted as sectarian violence spreads in the region.

Sectarian conflict between Shi'ite Muslim Houthis and ultra-conservative Sunni Salafis has increased in northern Yemen in the last few months, with at least 210 people killed.

The country, in turmoil since a popular uprising ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, is also struggling against southern secessionists and an economic crisis.

(Addition reporting by Mehrdad Balali; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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