By Fawaz Al-Haidari / AFP
ADEN: Saudi Arabia’s deputy consul in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden was seized by unknown gunmen outside his home on Wednesday, a police official told AFP.
“Abdullah Al-Khalidi was kidnapped while leaving his home in the Mansoura neighborhood of Aden,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said police have launched an investigation into the kidnapping and are actively searching for the diplomat.
“He was taken to an unknown location and we are searching for him,” the official added.
Insecurity has plagued Yemen’s mostly lawless southern region in the past year, with Al-Qaeda-linked militants overrunning several towns in Aden’s neighboring Abyan province in May, and the abduction of foreigners is common.
A Saudi official in Riyadh said the news of the kidnapping was “likely” to be true, adding that the “deputy consul left his home this morning and disappeared but his car is still in front of the house.”
The official, also requesting anonymity, said the “Saudi embassy in Yemen is in touch with Yemeni officials at the highest levels… But so far the search (for Khalidi) has yielded no results.”
Another Yemeni police official told AFP that Khalidi’s kidnapping was not politically motivated.
“He has some personal conflicts with people in Aden,” the official said, adding that in recent months, the deputy consul had been threatened and unknown assailants had even “thrown a grenade at his home in Aden.”
He did not give further details.
Late last year, unknown gunmen stopped the diplomat while he was driving in Aden, pulled him from his car and then stole it. He was unharmed.
Khalidi is the third Saudi national to be kidnapped in Yemen in as many years. In April 2011, tribesmen kidnapped a Saudi diplomat in the capital Sanaa in an apparent bid to settle a trade dispute involving a Saudi businessman.
Saeed Al-Maliki, a Second Secretary at the Saudi embassy, was released nine days later.
In November 2010, gunmen kidnapped a Saudi doctor in north Yemen and demanded the release of nine jailed members of Al-Qaeda.
Dhafer Al-Shihri, the 48-year-old acting head of Al-Salam Hospital in Saada city was released the same day after tribal mediation.
Saudi Arabia has played a crucial role in the power-transition deal that forced former president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power after a year-long uprising against his rule.
The kingdom is also a key donor to the impoverished country.
On Tuesday, King Abdullah ordered the donation of petroleum products to Yemen, enough to cover the needs for two months.
The kingdom is also expected to host a donor conference in May to organize the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian relief.
Militants with ties to Al-Qaeda have exploited the weakening central government in Sanaa to strengthen their presence in Yemen, launching deadly attacks against security forces especially across the restive south and southeast.
Aden itself is also a separatist stronghold, with militants there disrupting the referendum-like presidential election last month saying the vote failed to meet their aspirations of autonomy or outright independence for the south.
The United States says the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is the most active and deadly branch of the global jihadist network.
Since last May, the extremists have increased their control over several towns and villages in the south, including Abyan’s capital Zinjibar.
More than 200 people have been abducted in Yemen over the past 15 years, many of them by members of the country’s powerful tribes who use them as bargaining chips with the authorities.
Almost all of those kidnapped were later freed unharmed.