Friday, March 1, 2013

Yemen: Update--Swiss Hostage, 35, Released After a Year, Swiss Foreign Ministry Emphasizes That "No Ransom Was Paid"

According to The Associated Press, the government of Qatar facilitated the release of Swiss researcher Sylvia Abrahat, 35, who was kidnapped on March 13, 2012, in the port city of Hodeida [Yemen] and released on Wednesday (February 27).

Ali bin Fahd al-Hajri, Qatar’s assistant foreign minister for foreign affairs, said his country’s negotiating team had been “working during the past few months silently, and with wisdom and patience” to secure Abrahat’s release.

After arriving in the VIP lounge of Doha International Airport on Thursday (February 28), Ms. Abrahat deflected questions from reporters. Although tired, she appeared to have no visible signs of injury or abuse.

COMMENT: The former hostage was being looked after by the Swiss Foreign Ministry and will be returning to "Switzerland as soon as possible," according to spokesperson Pierre-Alain Eltschinger.
At the time Abrahat was kidnapped, Yemeni security officials said she had been abducted by tribesmen, but tribesmen in the area denied that, saying instead she had been abducted by militants to the southern province of Shabwa.
Kidnapping of foreigners is frequent occurrence in Yemen, where hostages are often used as negotiating chips to secure the release of Yemeni prisoners or to secure ransom payments.

Eltschinger did not give any details on who may have been behind the kidnapping, but seemed to go out of his way to say that he told the AP that “Switzerland paid no ransom.”

Having participated in the negotiation of a number of hostages over the years, I find it puzzling that Eltschinger felt compelled to emphasize to journalists that " Switzerland paid no ransom," considering that Abrahat made no formal comments or remarks, nor did anyone else.

Typically, the kidnappers, whomever they were, don't feed and care for a foreign hostage for nearly a year without being compensated. It should be assumed that they were compensated in some form.

Many questions remain unanswered; it is likely that we will never know the details. Yet, it is very positive that Ms. Abrahat was released, as she will need time to get back to a normal life and realize that she is actually free.

There also appears to be some dispute over who actually abducted Abrahat: Either it was tribesmen, who deny that they were responsible, or it was militants of one ilk or the other. Again, we may never know.