Al-Qaeda rebels holding an American journalist in Yemen moved him and two other foreign hostages just days before a raid to free him, a Yemeni defence ministry website said.
The journalist as well as a British national and a South African are among several hostages held by Al-Qaeda in the violence-wracked country, according to the ministry’s 26Sep.net news website.
On Tuesday, Yemeni special forces, said to have been backed by US commandos, raided an Al-Qaeda hideout in Hajr As-Saghir, in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, to free the captives.
Eight hostages — six Yemenis, a Saudi and an Ethiopian — were freed in the operation, in which seven gunmen were killed, Yemeni security officials said at the time.
The ministry website reported late Wednesday that hours before the raid the rebels moved the American journalist, the Briton and the South African.
A Yemeni hostage and a fifth person believed to be Turkish were also moved, said the report, quoting a member of the Yemeni special forces who had spoken to one of the freed hostages.
The special forces member was identified as Abu Maruf, but the website provided no further details or official confirmation.
The New York Times, quoting American and Yemeni officials, said on Wednesday that US Special Operations commandos carried out a raid with Yemeni troops to try to free the American captive.
“But when the commandos swooped in on the mountain cave where they believed the American was being held, they found eight other hostages, including six Yemenis, but not the American,” it said.
The newspaper added that it had initially withheld the information “at the request of the Obama adminstration,” out of concern for the safety of the American hostage.
The Times said it was withholding the name of the captive journalist.
Abu Maruf told 26Sep.net that the operation followed intelligence information that Al-Qaeda were holding hostages, “including a number of foreigners.”
Al-Qaeda is active in southern and eastern Yemen, especially in Hadramawt, where the authority of the central government is weak.
A South African teacher, Pierre Korkie, was abducted by Al-Qaeda in May last year along with his wife Yolande, who was released in January. SAPA