Kidnapped Iranian diplomat rescued in Yemen

Kidnapped Iranian diplomat rescued in Yemen
Yemenis walks past site of an attack that targeted the house of the Iranian ambassador in Sanaa earlier this week, on December 5, 2014. Al-Qaeda's local branch said on December 3 it was behind a car bombing that killed one person and wounded 17 outside the residence of Iran's ambassador the Yemeni capital, where Tehran is accused of backing Shiite militia.

TEHRAN - An Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen and held hostage for nearly two years has been rescued in a military operation and returned to Tehran on Thursday, official media reported.

Nour-Ahmad Nikbakht was seized in July 2013 while leaving his home in Sanaa by gunmen suspected of being members of Al-Qaeda.

Iranian state television broadcast images Thursday of the diplomat arriving at Mehrabad airport in Tehran.

"I was kidnapped by unknown gunmen and terrorists as I left my home to go to work," Nikbakht said.

He said "many efforts were made by soldiers from (Iran's secret services), the intelligence ministry and the foreign ministry" to secure his release.

Nikbakht was held by suspected Al-Qaeda militants in a remote area between the southern provinces of Shabwa and Baida, tribal and Yemeni security sources said.

"I was in an extremely difficult situation and I did not know what was happening in the outside world," he told state media.

Intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi said the operation to free Nikbakht was executed "with the fewest possible casualties".

Tehran had "refused the conditions set by the terrorists" for the diplomat's release, Alavi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

Deputy foreign minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian added that Nikbakht was rescued by a military intelligence unit "after a series of complicated operations in a difficult area in Yemen".

In January last year, another Iranian diplomat, Ali Asghar Assadi, was shot dead in an attack in a neighbourhood in Sanaa housing several foreign embassies.

Nikbakht's release came less than a week after Saudi diplomat Abdullah al-Khalidi was freed and returned home after spending close to three years in Al-Qaeda's captivity.

Yemen, a key front line in the US war against Al-Qaeda, has been gripped by unrest since longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in early 2012 after a bloody year-long popular uprising.

Violence has increased since a Shiite militia known as the Huthis swept into the capital last September.

The Huthis, who occupied the seats of power in February in what critics branded an attempted coup, are accused of receiving backing from Shiite-dominated Iran.

A number of foreigners have been taken hostage in Yemen in recent years.

In December, US journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie died during a failed attempt by US commandos to rescue them from an Al-Qaeda hideout in southeastern Yemen.

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