Japanese engineer held for 1 week has been released by captors in Yemen

By Ahmed Al-haj, AP
Monday, November 23, 2009

Japanese engineer released by Yemeni tribesmen

SAN’A, Yemen — A Japanese engineer seized by Yemeni tribesmen seeking to swap him for a prisoner with al-Qaida links was released Monday after a week in captivity.

Takeo Mashimo returned to the capital, San’a, after a day of negotiations between the tribesmen and Yemeni authorities, said Natahiro Yamaguchi, the Japanese Embassy’s deputy chief of mission. Mashimo was in good health and was received by the Japanese ambassador and the governor of San’a, Yamaguchi said.

In brief remarks Mashimo thanked the government’s negotiating team and the tribesmen for letting him go.

Mashimo was working on the construction of a school about 12 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of the capital when he was kidnapped on Nov. 15.

He was taken by armed men from the Arhab tribe. One of its leaders, Sheik Nazih al-Hanaq, told The Associated Press Sunday that the tribe kidnapped the man in an attempt to force the government to release one of its members from prison — a common tactic by powerful tribes in large parts of Yemen where the central government has little or no control.

The prisoner was not immediately released Monday, but the tribe said it was continuing to negotiate with the government.

The Interior Ministry said last week that the imprisoned tribesman, Hussein Abdullah Qoob, has links to al-Qaida. It said he fought in Iraq for two years and was arrested four years ago.

Most kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen are by disgruntled tribesmen hoping to wrangle concessions from the government — including ransoms, the release of jailed relatives, or even promises to build local infrastructure.

Hostages are typically well treated and released unharmed.

The impoverished country in the south of the Arabian Peninsula has a weak central government that is struggling to battle rebels in the north and separatists in the south as well as confront a lingering threat from al-Qaida.

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