Kidnapping of foreigners in Yemen, 1996-2001

Articles about kidnapping

Chronology of kidnappings (1996-2001)


Kidnap incidents Foreigners kidnapped


Involving tourists Involving
and families
2001 7 1 6 8 2 6
2000 6 2 4 8 4 4
1999 10 4 6 27 11 16
1998 11 6 5 42 33 9
1997 10 6 4 50 43 7
1996 4 2 2 23 21 2
TOTAL 47 21 26 157 114 43
* "Expatriates" = non-tourists living in Yemen or visiting on business.

Articles about kidnapping

The kidnappers' toll
Middle East International, 10 March, 2000

Kidnap damage
Middle East International, 29 Jan 1999

The "Islamic Army" kidnapping, December 1998
Special report

Hold-up on the road to Ma'rib
A German adviser to the health ministry and a colleague were victims of a little-reported kidnapping attempt on 7 July, 1999. - Yemen Times

Interview with released Belgian hostages, July 1999
Yemen Times

Spate of kidnappings
Middle East International, 7-Nov-97

The truth about kidnapping in Yemen
by Shaker Alashwal

Chronology of kidnappings


September 28-29: A 50-year-old German businessman, Carl Lehrner, employed by a local Mercedes Benz car dealership, was abducted in Sana'a around midnight. He was released after nine days. Reports: BBC, CNN

September 23: Mao Ding, a 35-year-old Chinese accountant working for a construction company kidnapped while taking a morning stroll near his home. Police later arrested four suspects. It was reported that the kidnappers were from the Nihm tribe and their leader, a former army colonel was demanding that the authorities cancel his retirement, return his car, and employ 20 of tribesmen in the special Guards Army. Released unharmed on October 18. Report: AP/Zawya, Yemen Times

July 27: Armed tribesmen kidnapped a German diplomat in Sana'a. A security official said the man was in a car with his wife and the gunmen took him but left his wife behind. The German foreign ministry said he works in the economic section of the embassy. Police said the hostage was being held in the Aamass region, an area controlled by the al-Hadaa tribe,100 km southeast of the Sana'a. Released: September 24. Reports: AP, CNN/Reuters, AFP.Report of release: Yemen Times

May 27: Carl Christian Hoerencke, 25, an English language teacher and student at the Center for Arabic Language and Eastern Studies, was kidnapped while walking near Tahrir Square in central Sana'a and taken towards Marib. He was abducted by the Al Ali bin Falah branch of the Jahm tribe, demanding the release of six tribesmen who were jailed and sentenced to amputation of hands and feet for kidnapping Faisal Muthanna Omar, head of the Supreme Court committee. He was released unharmed on June 13. Report: Yemen Times

May 10: Members of the Murad tribe (Al Abu Asha) kidnapped a Bulgarian woman doctor from a hospital in Rada'a (al-Baydah province). They were demanding the release of a group of prisoners in Sana'a. Report: Yemen Times

January 30: Two Italian women tourists kidnapped by the Al Hteik tribe near Marib but released after a few hours. According to Yemen Times sources the tribe were demanding their own voting centre for the local government elections.

January 17: Luther Fielenberg, German oil expert, taken hostage in Shabwa only a week after arriving in Yemen to work for the German firm Preussag Energie. His kidnappers, from the Karb tribe, demanded that the company employ 50 tribesmen. He was released next day and officials said no deal had been made.


November 13: Anders Salenius, diabetic Swedish man, aged 69, kidnapped by Yahya Khamees al-Zayidi, a member of the central committee of the Yemen Socialist Party and member of the Jahm tribe. Zayidi was said to be seeking payment for land that he said the government had taken and used for a public project. Troops surrounded al-Mahjaza village in Marib province, where the man was believed to be held. He had recently arrived in Yemen as a consultant for the Swedish company Sweco International, which is building a diesel power plant in Sana'a.Mr Salenius was released on November 30.

June 16: Alberto Alessio, 40, chairman of an Italian archaeology foundation, kidnapped in Marib city along with Sadiq Saeed Othman, director of Yemen's museums department. Initial reports said the kidnappers were from the Jahm (Al Za'id) tribe, but the Yemen Times later said the Dhu Junah branch of the Murad tribe were responsible. They were reported to have demanded compensation for flood damage, employment in the military, a share of oil revenue for development projects, and a ransom. Mr Alessio had earlier signed an agreement with the minister of tourism and Universal Travel regarding the transfer of an exhibition, "Yemen, the land of Sheba" from Rome to Turin next September. All hostages were released four days later.

June 11: Gudbrand Stuve, 44, first secretary at the Norwegian embassy in Zambia, shot dead at a road block after being kidnapped along with his nine-year-old son in Sana'a. Mr Stuve and his family were travelling in Yemen on their way back to Norway. Report: Yemen Times.

March 1: Polish ambassador to Yemen, Krzysztof Suprowicz, abducted outside a dental surgery in Sana'a. His kidnappers, from the al-Qiyari tribe, were seeking the release of Sheikh Khaled al-Qiyari, who had been arrested at Sanaa airport for undisclosed "security reasons" on his return from Jordan. The ambassador was taken to the Yamaniatain region, 50 kilometres east of Sana'a but was released four days later after going on hunger strike.

January 26: Kenneth White, an American oil worker, abducted – most unusually – from his bed in the Halliburton company’s compound near Marib. The kidnappers broke in by cutting through barbed wire and skilfully covered the tracks of their escape route. The Yemen Times described it as "the most professional" kidnapping the country has witnessed and – again, most unusually – the motive for the abduction was unclear. The authorities claimed that unnamed leaders of the main opposition party, Islah, were behind the kidnapping, and linked it to a $400 million land dispute in Aden. Mr White was released unharmed on February 10.

January 16: French honeymoon couple, Nissa Berkat and Franck Bernard, both in their mid-20s, kidnapped north of Amran, along with a Yemeni guide and a driver. The kidnappers, numbering about 20, were led by Faisal Salah Shamlan, who also seized a group of foreigners in the same part of Yemen in 1999. The couple were taken to Nusayf village in al-Jawf province; army and security forces then surrounded the hideout. The kidnappers wanted the release of 11 fellow Shamlan tribesmen jailed for the previous hostage-taking and were also reportedly seeking schools and other development projects for their area. The couple were released on January 18 after mediation but recaptured by armed villagers when it became clear the authorities intended to arrest the kidnappers. They were released again later that day, saying they would continue their honeymoon in Yemen.


November 6: Members of the Nahm tribe attempted to kidnap seven foreign tourists (three men and four women) near Marib. Reports said three Germans among them were held until the following day but were released when huge numbers of security forces surrounded the area. The kidnap was said to have been arranged by a prominent local shiekh whose son had been sentenced to death for killing six people, including two soldiers. [Yemen Times]

October 26: Marta Colburn, director of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, and her elderly parents, kidnapped near Marib by the Bani Jabr tribe. Released on October 28 after security forces surrounded the area.

September 12 (?): Three Sudanese teachers - al-Ghazali Dafa Allah, Abdullah Hassan Fadel al-Moula and Saleh Suleiman - kidnappeed in Marib province. They were released on September 16. [Source: ArabicNews]

August 20, 1999: Two French citizens, Irenee Herbet, 28, head of the French embassy's cultural section, and his wife, Tara Steimer Herbet, 30, an archaeologist, kidnapped by the Bani Jabr in Sirwah - an area about 140 km east of Sana'a which is out-of-bounds to ordinary tourists. Their driver, a member of the Ashraf tribe, stopped the car and went to the mosque for prayer. While he was away, the Jabr tribe surrounded the car and took the couple away, despite the driver's attempts to release them by tribal means. The hostages were taken to al-Khanq, mountainous area, which was difficult for security forces to reach.

According to the Yemen Times, the hostages described themselves as teachers and the tribe were apparently on the point of releasing them, having decided they were not particularly valuable captives, when they heard (wrongly) via international news agencies that the couple were diplomats, and changed their minds about releasing them. Sheikh Faisal Juzeilan, who was behind the kidnapping, then demanded government compensation for flood damage that occurred a few years earlier, plus four tractors. He also asked for 200 Jabr tribesmen to be enrolled in the army. Negotiations continued through tribal channels, while security forces put on a show of strength.

On August 23, according to Reuters, President Salih said that two of the men responsible had been involved in an attempt to assassinate Omar al-Jawi (the late opposition politician) in which one other politician was killed. He said the two men were "working for the benefit of foreign intelligence agencies opposed to Yemen". The couple were released unharmed on September 2.

July 28, 1999: Keith McDonald, a Canadian construction supervisor in his 60s, employed by the American Hunt Oil company, kidnapped as he drove to work in the Bayhan area of Shabwa province. His captors were seeking to exchange him for a Daham tribesman who was acquitted by a court on July 28 of murdering a Belhareth tribesman two years earlier. Hostage released on July 30.

July 15, 1999: Four Belgian tourists - two men and two women - kidnapped along with their Yemeni driver near Amran (40km north of Sana'a) while travelling by jeep to Sa'ada. Three more Belgians and their driver in another jeep were released. The hostages were taken to Barat nearby. Security forces surrounded the area and negotiations followed, led by Sheik al-Shaif, the Chairman of the Rights and Liberties Committee of parliament, who has local connections. They were released safely on July 18. The Yemen Times reported that the mediators agreed to meet the demands of the kidnappers which included some social projects and services, plus other demands which were not disclosed.

April 17, 1999: The interior minister, General Hussein Arab, announced that security services had foiled an attempt to kidnap a judge in Dhamar province and that 10 people had been arrested.

January 31, 1999: British man, Patrick Walsh, employed by Hunt Oil company in Marib province, kidnapped but released next morning.

January 27, 1999: Eight people, including three Germans, kidnapped by tribesmen in Amran. The Germans were a midwife working the German development service DED in Amran, her brother and their mother. The others abducted were the midwife's Yemeni husband, their three (Yemeni) children, and the family's driver. The Yemenis were quickly realeased, and on January 29 the midwife was released, but the kidnappers later demanded her return, saying she had merely been sent with a message. The two remaining hostages, both Germans, were released safely on February 7.

January 17, 1999: A Dutch family of four (including two children aged 7 and 8) and a British couple were kidnapped while driving from Sa'adah to Sana'a. The two Britons, Eddie Rosser and his wife Mary, both in their sixties, were half-way through a six-month contract with the Dutch-based aid organisation, Worldwide Services. The kidnapping was reportedly carried out by a tribesman who was wanted for murdering a supermarket owner during the hold-up in Sana'a in October 1998. The authorities had arrested two of the kidnapper's brothers to encourage him to give himself up. Instead, he captured the six foreigners to try to obtain the release of his brothers. All were released unharmed on February 2.

January 9, 1999: John Brooke, a British employee of a US oil services company, Halliburton, kidnapped in Marib province. The kidnappers were seeking the release of a fellow tribesman arrested on charges of sabotage and highway robbery. Mr Brooke was released unharmed on January 13.


December 28, 1998: Sixteen tourists - 12 Britons, two Americans and two Australians - taken hostage in Abyan province. It was the largest kidnapping in Yemen's recent history. The tourists had been travelling in a convoy of five four-wheel-drive vehicles when the kidnappers, believed to be from the Islamic Jihad, opened fire. One Briton and a Yemeni guide escaped. The rest were taken to al-Wadi'a. Four hostages were killed when troops closed in. See: Abu Hamza and the Islamic Army

December 14, 1998: Armed members of the al-Faqir tribe kidnapped 'Umar al-Sufi, the 11-year-old son of Hammud Khalid al-Sufi, a GPC member of parliament, outside the boy's school in Sana'a. Released on December 17 after his father promised to look into the tribe's grievances.

December 6, 1998: Four German tourists, three of them women, kidnapped by Bani Dhabyan tribe near the Yislah pass, 60 km south of Sana'a, as they returned to the capital after a trip. On December 8, Yemeni authorities said they had arrested nine members of the tribe and issued a warning to free the hostages within 24 hours "or face severe consequences". The hostages were released unharmed on December 30. RAY newspaper (5.1.99) claimed that the German Embassy had paid three million riyals ($21,500) and the Yemeni government two million ($14,250) plus four vehicles, to secure the release. The German government denied making any payment. Petra M Vangelista, one of the hostages, adds: "Contrary to reports at the time, we were not forced into another vehicle. The tribesmen threw out the driver and we were taken in the car we had been using all the week for our trip. We were a group of two cars; our translator was in the other car, which was in front of us." (Previous kidnappings by Bani Dhabyan: January 20 and April 16, 1998; October 16, 1997.)

November 22, 1998: Yemeni businessman, Abdel Hakim Hussein Shamsan, kidnapped by armed men outside a mosque in Aden and taken to Marib, according to his brother.

October 28, 1998: Two European tourists kidnapped by the Ba-Kazim tribe in the Mahfad area of Abyan province but released the next day. This was the first kidnapping of foreigners since the death penalty was introduced for hostage-taking in August. The hostage-takers were apparently demanding the release of a fellow tribesman sentenced to death for banditry. The couple - a husband and wife - were originally reported to be Austrian but later turned out to be Belgian. Two men later arrested.

September 7, 1998: Yemen Times reports that between April 1991 and April 1998 there were 124 cases of kidnapping. Of the 146 victims, 124 were foreigners and 22 Yemenis.

September 1, 1998: al-Umma newspaper reports that the director of projects and construction at the education office in Dhamar has been released after being taken hostage by the Hada tribe (demanding implementation of public service projects in their territory).

August 4, 1998: President Salih issues a decree imposing the death penalty for kidnapping.

July 30, 1998: Al-Umma newspaper reports that four men attempted to kidnap Dutch agricultural project director Mathew Brugman and his wife in Dhamar. The couple, who were previously kidnapped on February 18, 1998, foiled the attempt. Their previous abductors were in police detention at the time.

June 18, 1998: Nine Italian tourists, including four women, kidnapped by the al-Marazeeq tribe near Bir Ali, close to Aden. Two of the women later freed, with their Yemeni driver, after becoming ill. The others, who were held near Kor (Shabwa province), were released after three days. The kidnappers demanded a car and the building of a school. They claimed these were promised during a previous kidnapping but not delivered. (AP 20-Jun-98; BBC World Service 21-Jun-98).

April 23, 1998: Ukrainian sailor, Alexander Bondarenko, taken hostage. Released next day. (Reuter 25-Apr-98)

April 16, 1998: David Mitchell (48), who works for the British Council in Aden, taken hostage together with his wife, Carolyn, and 14-year-old son, Ben. The family were travelling north to Sana'a when they were kidnapped at gunpoint by Bani Dhabyan tribe near Dhamar. Released unharmed after 17 days. (Reuter 19-Apr-98, 3-Apr-98)

March 1, 1998: Tribesmen fired machine guns at a bus carrying about 30 tourists, mostly Germans, to Marib. One tourist and three policemen escorting the bus injured. Six attackers captured. (Associated Press 1-Mar-98)

February 18, 1998: Dutch agricultural project director Mathew Brugman kidnapped by the Maghrib Ans tribe while driving through Dhamar with his wife. Tribesmen stopped the couple's car, ordered the wife out and drove off with him. He was released after two days. (Associated Press 19-Feb-98) See above: July 30, 1998

February 22, 1998: Eleven-year-old grandson of the chief Supreme Court judge kidnapped by al-Hada tribe (Dhamar province). The kidnappers were demanding the death penalty for three men from another tribe who were convicted of raping a 13-year-old al-Hada boy (instead of the actual sentence of 100 lashes and 5-10 years in prison). After earlier protests by the tribe, an appeal court ruled that all four should be executed. But the Supreme Court upheld only the first death sentence and the man was publicly executed by firing squad in December 1997. It was the tribe's third attempt to secure the death penalty by kidnapping. (Associated Press 22-Feb-98; 25-Feb-98)

February 9, 1998: Clemens Verweij, a diabetic Dutch tourist with heart problems, kidnapped by Toaiman tribe near Sana'a and taken to al-Mahjaza in Ma'rib province. Authorities sent troops with armoured cars, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Hostage freed 16 days later after authorities released the brother of Salih Suda, the leader of the Toaiman tribe. The tribe had also been seeking the release of two others arrested with him while trying to steal a government car. (Associated Press 22-Feb-98; Associated Press 25-Feb-98)

January 20, 1998: German, believed to be a technician working for the health ministry, kidnapped by four armed men of the Bani Dhabyan tribe; released after two days. Tribe demanded more water for their region and higher wages for their members employed in the civil service. (Associated Press 22-Jan-98)

January 20, 1998: Chinese national kidnapped by Bakazem tribe in Shabwah province; released after two days. The kidnappers had demanded 3,000,000 riyals ($ 30,000) in compensation for police killing one of their tribe and a further sum for goods confiscated at police checkpoints. Eight tribesmen arrested. (Associated Press 22-Jan-98)

January 5, 1998: Wife of the South Korean consul, their three-year-old daughter and a Korean businessman kidnapped in central Sana'a by members of the al-Hada tribe when they stopped their car to buy watermelon. The kidnappers were demanding the death penalty for three men from another tribe who were convicted of raping a 13-year-old al-Hada boy (instead of the actual sentence of 100 lashes and 5-10 years in prison). A fourth man, convicted of kidnapping the boy as well as joining in the rape, had already been executed in December. It was the tribe's second attempt to secure the death penalty by kidnapping. (Associated Press 06-Jan-98)


October 30, 1997: American, Steve Carpenter (47), working for a Yemeni al-Hashedi company kidnapped in Sana'a and taken to Barat, 160 km north of Sana'a. Held by members of Bakil tribal group seeking restoration of $20-a-month "subsidy" which the government had been paying to 200 tribesmen. Released after four weeks. (Reuter 30-Oct-97)

October 29, 1997: Attempt to abduct the Qatari ambassador in Sana'a, Muhammad Bin Hamad Al Khalifah. Nine people arrested. (BBC Monitoring Service 04-Nov-97)

October 23, 1997: Four Russians (two doctors and their wives) kidnapped near Dhamar and held by al-Hada tribe, demanding the death penalty for three men from another tribe who were convicted of raping a 13-year-old al-Hada boy. Hostages released 20 days later after the government promised to review the case. (Reuter 30-Oct-97)

October 16, 1997: Briton Henry Thompson (38), working for a Japanese aid agency, kidnapped with his Yemeni interpreter and driver near Anz, 100km south of Sana'a. Held by Sheikh Mubarak Ali Saada of Bani Dhabyan tribe in Marib province. Tribe seeking financial aid and electricity and water projects. Released after two weeks. (Associated Press 16-Oct-97)

October 15, 1997: Four French tourists kidnapped by eight tribesmen of Al Salim (Bakil) tribe at the behest of Sheikh Shaya Bakhtan while heading towards Sa'ada, 270 km north of Sana'a. Demand for 6 million riyals ($46,000) plus vehicles. Released next day. (Associated Press 16-Oct-97; Agence France Presse 21-Oct-97)

August 21, 1997: Eighteen Italian tourists in a convoy travelling through Shabwa attacked by five armed tribesmen who opened fire when the drivers refused to stop. A 32-year-old Italian suffered a broken shoulder. (Associated Press 22-Aug-97)

August 14, 1997: Four Italians kidnapped near Khamir, 100 km north of Sanaa. (Reuter 14-Aug-97)

August 13, 1997: Six Italian tourists kidnapped while on their way to al-Mukalla on the southern coast. (Reuter 14-Aug-97)

March 27, 1997: Two elderly German couples kidnapped by Jihm tribe while returning from a visit to ruins at Barakesh, 200 km east of Sana'a. Tribe demanded share of international aid provided after floods in the area the previous year. (Agence France Presse 3-Apr-97)

March, 1997: Seven German motorcycle tourists kidnapped near Tarim, 750 km east of Sana'a. Held for 10 days. (Agence France Presse 3-Apr-97)

February, 1997: American oil company engineer held for 17 days in eastern Yemen. (Agence France Presse 3-Apr-97)


December, 1996: Four Polish tourists and their Yemeni guide kidnapped by Beni Jabr tribe 60 kilometers east of Sanaa, while driving to an archeological site. Three members of the security forces were killed and five injured when the tribesmen fired an anti-tank rocket at them.

October, 1996: French diplomat kidnapped; held for 12 days. (Agence France Presse 01-Nov- 96)

May, 1996: Maaz Taha Ahmad Ghanim, aged 20, son of Taha Ahmad Ghanim, the governor of Aden, kidnapped by Khawlane tribe. Authorities claimed it was instigated by Colonel Ahmad Obad Sherif, a prominent member of the tribe who was also a member of the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) central committee - and sought his extradition from Saudi Arabia where he had gone shortly before the incident. The kidnappers demanded that the authorities return a house in Aden which the YSP (as ruling party in the former south Yemen) had nationalised and given to Sherif. A court had since ordered that the house be returned to the original owner. At the time of the kidnapping, Col Sherif - who denied involvement - was employed as an adviser to the Interior Ministry. Security forces released the hostage after six days and arrested a number of people.

January 26, 1996: Seventeen (mostly elderly) French tourists kidnapped on a bus in Marib province by al-Duman tribe and taken to Shabwa. Released after five days. Captors entertained them with folk dances and gave them presents of traditional daggers and antique firearms. Tribe was seeking the release of Zubain Duman, who was awaiting trial on charges connected with the kidnapping of an American in September 1995.

January, 1996: American oil worker and three colleagues kidnapped on December 31 near Janna (Shabwa province) by tribesmen seeking jobs and payment from the government for use of their land. Released after four days.