One American held in Yemen released

Updated 8:20 AM EDT, Tue June 2, 2015
01:14 - Source: CNN
Four Americans held by Houthi rebels
(CNN) —  

The State Department confirmed Monday afternoon that American Casey Coombs arrived safely in Oman after being detained in neighboring Yemen.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that Coombs was in stable condition and that the U.S. ambassador and a consular official met him at the airport upon his arrival and are providing consular assistance to him in Muscat, Oman’s capital.

At least three other Americans are still being held by Houthi rebels in Yemen, a Yemeni government official and a senior U.S. official told CNN. The Washington Post first reported that they had been detained.

“We are grateful to the government of Oman and personally to Sultan Qaboos for assisting with the safe passage of a U.S. citizen to Oman,” Harf said.

Last week, two U.S. officials met with Yemen’s Houthi rebels to push for the release of Coombs in Muscat, senior administration officials confirm to CNN.

The talks, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, were led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson and U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller, were facilitated by Oman, according to officials. The Saudi government was notified in advance of the meeting.

READ: U.S., UK and France pull embassy staffers out of Yemen

An Oman news agency reported earlier Monday that, acting on instructions from Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said to assist the United States, “Oman has helped the American government … find the missing [American] citizen in Yemen.”

The news agency also reported that he was transferred from Sanaa to Oman Monday with the aid of Omani authorities.

Several of the Americans still being held are believed to be in the capital city of Saana. It is unclear where exactly they are located and whether they’re in the same place.

There may be other Americans being held inside and outside the capital, according to the officials.

Information is scant and murky because of the lack of direct contact between the U.S. and the Houthis as well as communications challenges in war-torn Yemen. The Houthis, backed by Iran, have ousted the Yemeni government from the capital city.

At least one captive is believed to be a dual U.S.-Yemeni national. They are among dozens of Americans who chose to stay in Yemen or were unable to leave the country after the U.S. closed its embassy in February and evacuated its personnel.

They were detained at different times over the past week to 10 days, the officials said. However, the circumstances under which they were taken into custody is unclear.

It is also unclear why they were detained. At first, the Yemenis thought the Houthis took them to gain leverage on peace talks with the government, but that seems to have been ruled out. Because the rebels have made no demands, officials are not sure about the motives.

“It looks like they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” the Yemeni official said.

There is no indication the Americans have been physically harmed.

There are “multiple channels” that have been opened to speak to the Houthis to try and secure the Americans’ release, according to the Yemeni official, including Yemeni representatives who have ties to the rebels, NGOs and “other countries.”