Saudi Arabia says it has rescued two young American women from Yemen in a joint special operations mission with the United States.
The women, both Yemeni-American teenagers, were being held by the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s capital Sanaa after having been taken captive while visiting their grandmother, the Saudi defence ministry said on Thursday.
The women were taken by Saudi operatives from Sanaa to Aden, then flown to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. They have now been repatriated to the US, the Saudis said.
The Saudis did not say when the rescue mission took place, but a person familiar with the operation said it occurred in January and was being made public now because the women are now back in the US.
“During a family visit to Sanaa, the two US citizens were mistreated by the Houthi militia,” said Saudi defence ministry spokesperson Brigadier-General Turki al-Malki. “The Houthis also placed restrictions on their freedom and movement, and their passports were confiscated.
“Following a request from the US and through a special security operation, the two US citizens were freed and then transported from Sanaa to Aden,” he added. “Subsequently, they were flown from Aden to Riyadh by the Royal Saudi Air Force.”
‘Grateful for the assistance’
The statement said the joint operation was indicative of cooperation between Washington and Riyadh, something that many have called into question recently over differences on issues ranging from global oil supplies to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the Iran nuclear deal.
A State Department spokesperson confirmed the rescue operation, saying in a statement: “We assisted with the safe return of two US citizens from an area of Yemen currently under Houthi control.”
The spokesperson said the department was grateful for the assistance of “our Saudi and Yemeni partners … in facilitating their safe departure. Due to privacy considerations, we have nothing further.”
The Houthis forced the women to marry “under duress”, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters news agency.
The Houthi movement, claiming it was fighting a corrupt system, overthrew Yemen’s internationally recognised government in 2014 and seized Sanaa. The militia now controls much of the deeply impoverished country.
A Saudi-led military coalition intervened on the government’s side in 2015. The conflict recently escalated with Houthi missile and drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition, prompting retaliatory strikes by the coalition.
The war has created what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with more than 20 million people in need of some form of assistance or protection.