UAE: Army Frees British Hostage Held in Yemen - NBC Connecticut
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UAE: Army Frees British Hostage Held in Yemen

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    A giant UAE flag on display as part of Dubai National Day celebrations on December 1, 2008 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

    The United Arab Emirates said Sunday that its military freed a British hostage held by al-Qaida in Yemen who had been kidnapped 18 months ago while working as a petroleum engineer in the war-torn country.

    A statement carried by the UAE's official WAM news agency said Douglas Robert Semple, 64, was freed during a military intelligence operation and taken to the Yemeni port city of Aden before being flown by UAE military aircraft to Abu Dhabi. He was greeted at the airport by the British ambassador and taken for medical checks at a hospital, the statement said.

    The statement did not say where in Yemen Semple had been held or provide any details on the rescue operation. The UAE is part of the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition that has been launching airstrikes against Shiite rebels in Yemen since March.

    British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed the release of a British hostage by UAE forces in a military intelligence operation.

    "The British national is safe and well, and is receiving support from British government officials," he said in a statement, adding that the government is "very grateful for the assistance of the UAE."

    The UAE's official statement said Semple had been working as a petroleum engineer in the Yemeni province of Hadramawt when he was kidnapped in February 2014. The WAM statement said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan telephoned British Prime Minister David Cameron Saturday evening to inform him of the operation.

    Al-Qaida has been making inroads amid the chaos of Yemen's civil war. Yemeni security officials told The Associated Press on Saturday that al-Qaida militants seized control of key areas in and around Aden and are expanding there in the wake of fighting between the Shiite rebels known as Houthis and an array of anti-rebel forces backed by Saudi Arabia.

    Backed by heavy airstrikes, anti-rebel forces pushed the Houthis out of Aden last month. The Houthis overran the capital of Sanaa last year and eventually forced the Yemeni president into exile in Saudi Arabia.

    Washington considers al-Qaida's Yemen branch to be the most dangerous offshoot of the global terror network and has repeatedly targeted it with drone strikes.