An American humanitarian worker and a U.S. businessman held captive by Iranian-backed militants in Yemen were released on Wednesday in the Middle Eastern country's capital, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said. He said another American detained in Yemen had died in captivity.
The two Americans released by the Houthis and the remains of Bilal Fateen, a U.S. citizen who died in custody, were exchanged for 200 individuals loyal to the Iranian-backed militants fighting in Yemen against proxies supported by Saudi Arabia, according to The Wall Street Journal, which was first to report the news.
“The United States welcomes the release today of U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada from Houthi custody in Yemen,” national security adviser Robert O'Brien said in a statement. “We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fateen, whose remains will be repatriated as well.”
O'Brien did not mention the exchange, but thanked the leaders of Oman and Saudi Arabia for their help in securing the release of the Americans.
Kieran Ramsey, director of the administration's hostage recovery cell, said Loli and Gidada would soon be on their way back to the United States.
“Tragically, one of these Americans died during his unlawful captivity,” Ramsey said.
Kash Patel, a deputy assistant to Trump who worked on the deal, told The Wall Street Journal that Loli had been held by the Houthis for about three years and Gidada was held captive for about a year.
According to the newspaper, Saudi officials said they were reluctant to back the deal because it would allow dozens of Houthi militants trained on advanced drones and missiles to return to the battle zone.
Yemen plunged into chaos and civil war when the Houthi rebels took over the capital, Sanaa, in 2014 from the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015.
The war in Yemen has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages. It has killed more than 112,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to a database project that tracks violence.