Casey L. Coombs, one of several Americans believed to be held by the Houthis, was scheduled to undergo a medical evaluation before flying home to Seattle, his mother, Jill Marie Hammill, said in a telephone interview.
CAIRO — Yemen’s Houthi rebel group on Monday released an American freelance journalist who had been in its custody for about two weeks, according to the journalist’s family.
The release of the journalist, Casey L. Coombs, one of several Americans believed to be held by the Houthis, came as the abductors of a Frenchwoman seized three months ago published a video online of her pleading with the presidents of France and Yemen for her rescue. The Frenchwoman’s captors are not believed to be Houthis, and may be aligned with al-Qaida militants in Yemen.
Coombs, who lived in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, was arrested by Houthi militiamen there in mid-May and traveled to neighboring Oman on Monday. He was scheduled to undergo a medical evaluation there before flying home to Seattle, his mother, Jill Marie Hammill, said in a telephone interview.
Hammill said she had received a call from the International Committee of the Red Cross early Monday saying that Coombs was at the Sanaa airport and was preparing to leave Yemen. She was able to speak to her son Monday afternoon, after he arrived in Oman.
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She found out Sunday that her son was freed after being taken by rebels on May 17.
She’s shocked and overjoyed, Hammill said.
“It was a miracle,” she told The Associated Press. “We didn’t know if we would see him again.”
In a brief telephone conversation with his mother after his release, Coombs said that he wasn’t badly tortured but that it was still a difficult experience, Hammill said. She said she hasn’t heard the whole story but that he planned to reveal details of what happened when he returns to the U.S.
“He sounds extremely relieved,” Hammill said. “He said he’s still trying to process the whole thing. Sounds like he’s still in shock.”
Coombs is a freelance reporter who was working for The Intercept online news site and other publications. Emails to the Intercept seeking comment were not immediately returned.
His mother said he had been in Yemen for three years doing stories about humanitarian issues. He and his sister grew up in Utah, and Coombs has several degrees from the University of Utah: bachelor’s degrees in English and anthropology and a master’s in international affairs. The family recently moved to Seattle.
Coombs reported in the Intercept in early May that he was having trouble leaving Yemen. He was trying to get evacuated when he was taken by the rebels, Hammill said.
Despite being held hostage, she expects her son to continue being a freelance journalist.
“That’s who he is. It’s in his blood,” Hammill said. “But he won’t be doing it in Yemen.”
The Obama administration has said a number of Americans have been detained by the Houthis, a Shiite-rebel group that took control of Yemen’s capital and forced the U.S.-backed Yemeni government from power earlier this year.
U.S. officials have not released details on the identities of the others in Houthi custody.
The video of the abducted Frenchwoman, Isabelle Prime, 30, a consultant for a World Bank-financed project, was the first time Prime had been seen publicly since she and a Yemeni translator were seized Feb. 24 in a brazen daytime abduction in Sanaa. The translator, identified by news agencies as Sherine Makkaoui, was freed March 10 in the southern city of Aden.
It also was not clear when the video of Prime was produced, but her reference to the Yemeni president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, suggested it might have been made before he was forced into exile in Saudi Arabia in March by the Houthi insurgents. A Saudi-led military coalition has been bombing Yemen since then as part of its goal to restore Hadi to power.
In the video, Prime, speaking in accented English, appeals to President François Hollande of France and Hadi. Looking frightened and wearing a black head scarf and shirt, she squints into the video camera.
“My name is Isabelle and I’ve been kidnapped 10 weeks ago in Yemen, in Sanaa,” she said. “Please bring me to France, fast, because I’m really, really tired. I’ve tried to kill myself several times because I know you will not cooperate, and I totally understand.”
Government officials in Paris confirmed the authenticity of the video and reiterated their intention to secure Prime’s release, but provided no further details.
Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country and an incubator of al-Qaida militants, has long been a dangerous place for Westerners. Last December, an American photojournalist, Luke Somers, and a South African teacher, Pierre Korkie, were killed by their al-Qaida captors after U.S. military commandos undertook a raid in southern Yemen in an effort to free them.