A Dutch couple taken hostage Tuesday by armed tribesmen in Yemen said their kidnappers were treating them well, including offering them lunch and tea, after brazenly hijacking their car in the capital.
Speaking by cell phone to The Associated Press from a village where they were being held, Heleen Janszen said five men with Kalashnikov rifles surrounded their car while the couple was driving in the capital, San’a.
They forced her husband, Jan Hoogendoorn, 54, to move to the back seat and made both of them put on traditional Yemeni clothing including a head scarf to escape the city undetected, she said.
“It was a very classical kidnapping situation,” Janszen, 49, told the AP, talking on a phone that one of the kidnappers had allowed her to use. “We were offered lunch and tea, and were allowed to take a walk and take pictures. It’s such an adventure — that’s the only way to cope with it.”
Yemeni tribes have previously seized foreigners — either tourists or those living or working in the country — to pressure the Yemeni government to meet their demands, mainly to free clan members from jail. In most cases the kidnappings are resolved and the hostages freed unharmed.
Yemen, the most impoverished country in the Arabian Peninsula, is a U.S. ally in the Middle East, but it also is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaida loyalists are active in the country.
In December, three Germans — an aid worker and her visiting mother and father — were freed after being held for less than a week by tribesmen, who received a ransom from the Yemen government of about $100,000.
The al-Serag tribe claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s kidnapping. Their leader, Sheik Ali Nasser Serag, told the AP that they took the couple to put pressure on the Yemeni government for compensation after six of his tribesmen were wounded in a shoot-out with police in April 2008.
“We talked to the mayor and the government and everyone important,” Serag said. “But no one listens. So this way we will put pressure on our government and finally get justice.”
After being kidnapped, the two were taken to a mountainous region about 40 miles (70 kilometers) east of San’a, according to a statement from the office of the city’s mayor, Noman Dowaid. The statement did not provide more information.
The couple, who is from the Dutch city of Deventer, has lived in San’a for three years where Hoogendoorn works for a water company, Janszen said, adding that they had spoken with Dutch officials since their kidnapping. She said she had been able to communicate a bit with the kidnappers in Arabic.
The Foreign Ministry in the Netherlands confirmed that the two were kidnapped, but it would not release more information. Janszen said she expected to be released in a day.