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Iran-backed rebels storm US Embassy in Yemen, take 25 employees hostage

Houthis protest against airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Sana'a in September 2015. (Henry Ridgwell, VOA/Released)
November 12, 2021

Houthi rebels backed by Iran breached the U.S. Embassy compound in Yemen this week and 25 local embassy employees were taken hostage, the U.S. State Department confirmed on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg initially reported 25 Yemenis working for the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen were captured by Houthi rebels. Bloomberg reported a State Department spokesperson told the outlet that the U.S. is concerned by reports of the embassy employees being captured.

On Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed to Fox News that the embassy compound was also breached and that the department has been actively working towards the release of the hostages.

Price said the “majority” of the hostages have been released, but that some embassy staff are still detained “without explanation.”

“We have been unceasing in our behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to secure their release,” Price told reporters Thursday. “We’ve seen some progress, and we’re continuing to work this critical issue.”

Consular services at the Sanaa embassy have been suspended since February of 2015, after Houthi rebels took control of the capital city during Yemen’s ongoing civil war. The U.S. diplomatic staff returned home and, in 2018, Reuters reported the U.S. ambassador for Yemen had been working out of the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

While U.S. personnel have been gone for years, local employees have continued to work for the embassy either from home or as security guards at the embassy compound.

“We call on the Houthis to immediately vacate it and return all seized property,” Price said Thursday. “The U.S. government will continue its diplomatic efforts to secure the release of our staff and the vacating of our compound, including through our international partners.”

U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking and Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to Yemen Cathy Westley had visited with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalek Saeed and Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed in Aden on Monday.

The Yemeni civil war has been going on since 2014, with the Iran-backed Houthi’s fighting with the Yemeni government and a coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has also provided weapons to Saudi Arabia during the ongoing conflict.

In January, President Joe Biden halted a sale of about 3,000 precision-guided GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb I’s (SDB I) to Saudi Arabia and vowed to suspend all U.S. support for offensive operations in an ongoing Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against the Houthi rebel movement, “including relevant arms sales.” In March, the State Department also announced renewed U.S. humanitarian assistance for Houthi-controlled areas of northern Yemen.

Last week, the Biden administration did announce a new $650 million sale of air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia.