ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) - A Saudi Arabian diplomat who was kidnapped last month by al Qaeda-linked militants is in “good health” and could be released within “the coming hours”, a powerful tribal leader in southern Yemen said on Monday.
Riyadh said last week that a suspected al Qaeda militant had claimed responsibility for kidnapping the diplomat, Abdallah al-Khalidi, and demanded the release of militants in Saudi prisons. He threatened in a call to the Saudi embassy in Sana‘a to kill the diplomat unless his demands were met.
Sheikh Tareq al-Fadli, a tribal head in Abyan and a prominent leader of Yemen’s southern separatist movement, said he had been mediating with the kidnappers for Khaladi’s release.
“Things are going well... The man is fine, he is in good health,” Fadli told Reuters, adding that he would be released “within the coming hours”.
Khalidi, the Saudi deputy consul in the southern Yemen port city of Aden, was seized outside his residence on March 28.
A Saudi spokesman said the al Qaeda caller had been identified as Mishaal al-Shodoukhi, who was named on a list of fugitive al Qaeda militants by Saudi authorities in 2009.
Shodoukhi said his group would “prepare the knives” unless their demands were met, an official Saudi spokesman said, and threatened further attacks, including an embassy bombing and the assassination of a Saudi prince.
Riyadh, which has substantial influence among Yemeni tribes, rejected any negotiations with al Qaeda for the release of Khalidi and vowed to do all it could to free him.
The political turmoil in Yemen has strengthened Islamist insurgents in the country, who have taken over some cities in the south of the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state. They are allied with a regional wing of al Qaeda that has sworn to bring down neighboring Saudi Arabia’s ruling family.
Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf; Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Tim Pearce