The United Arab Emirates said today that its military freed a British hostage held by al-Qaeda 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 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 US-backed coalition that has been launching airstrikes against Shiite rebels in Yemen since March.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed the release. "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 WAM statement said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan telephoned British PM David Cameron last night to inform him of the operation. Yemeni security officials said yesterday that al-Qaeda 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. 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. (Read more Yemen stories.)