U.S. hostage freed; Yemen pounded
SANA, Yemen — An American freelance journalist who had been held by insurgents in Yemen since last month has been freed, U.S. officials and news reports said Monday.
News of the release of Casey Coombs, one of several Americans believed to have been detained by the Shiite Muslim rebels known as Houthis, came as a video surfaced of a Frenchwoman who was being held separately in Yemen, tearfully pleading for her freedom.
The State Department confirmed that Coombs had arrived in the Persian Gulf state of Oman. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington that he was in “stable” condition but provided no details.
Coombs’ release coincided with deadly new violence in Yemen, an impoverished but strategic state that has been devastated by a Saudiled air offensive, now in its third month.
A wave of heavy explosions rocked Sana, the capital, before dawn and lasted into the evening Monday, killing at least 20 people, Yemen’s Health Ministry said.
Bombardments beginning about 1 a.m. targeted Houthi positions, including the area around the presidential palace and a base on Mt. Nuqum on the capital city’s eastern outskirts. Casualties were also reported at a school in the southeastern district of Musaik where displaced people had been sheltering.
Ambulance sirens wailed and huge plumes of smoke rose into the air as terrified civilians f led.
More strikes took place in the strategic port city of Aden and the southern town of Dali, residents and officials said.
The air offensive led by neighboring Saudi Arabia against the insurgents and their allies has been widely criticized by international human rights groups for endangering civilians. About 2,000 people, many of them noncombatants, have died in the bombing campaign that began March 26.
Strikes on weapons caches often trigger secondary blasts and send shrapnel f lying into densely populated neighborhoods. That happened again in Monday’s bombardment, with powerful explosions closely following one another.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International also said last week that Houthi antiaircraft mu- nitions have killed or maimed dozens of civilians.
Air raids on the Mt. Nuqum area and elsewhere in Sana on Wednesday killed more than three dozen people. Combined with fatalities from strikes on several other areas, it was thought to have been the deadliest day of the air offensive.
Meanwhile, a video was posted on YouTube showing the 30-year-old Frenchwoman who was snatched off the street in Sana by unknown abductors in February, a few weeks before the start of the air war.
The video, which was authenticated by French officials although the date it was shot could not be established, showed Isabelle Prime, a consultant to the World Bank, appealing for help from the French and Yemeni governments.
A Yemeni woman who had been acting as Prime’s interpreter was captured as well but was later freed.
A HOTEL used by Houthi rebels in Sana, Yemen, was hit by Saudi-led airstrikes recently. On Monday, bombings in Sana killed at least 20, Yemeni authorities said.