Iranian Special Operatives Free Diplomat Abducted in Yemen -

Iranian Special Operatives Free Diplomat Abducted in Yemen - 05/03/2015 News

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Thursday that a team of special operatives has freed an Iranian diplomat abducted more than 19 months ago in Yemen, a rare acknowledgement by Tehran of an intel operation carried out on foreign soil.
The official IRNA news agency quoted deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian as saying that intelligence officers undertook a "difficult and complicated operation" to secure Nour Ahmad Nikbakht's freedom from the "hands of terrorists."
Amirabdollahian added that the operation took place "in a very special area in Yemen," without elaborating or providing further details.
The diplomat, who was stationed in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa at the time of his abduction, returned home on Thursday, the report said. State TV broadcast footage of Nikbakht arriving at Tehran airport and being welcomed by Iranian officials, his family and relatives.
In July 2013, armed men stopped an Iranian diplomat's car as he was driving in Sanaa, forced him into their vehicle and sped away. No one claimed responsibility but the abduction was blamed on al-Qaida-linked militants. The diplomat's name was not disclosed at the time.
Iran's intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi, told state TV that his officers carried out the operation to free Nikbakht at "minimum cost" and without giving in to the abductors' demands — a comment that suggests there had been negotiations over the diplomat's fate.
In January 2014, another Iranian diplomat in Sanaa — the embassy's economic attache, Ali Asghar Asadi — was killed in a drive-by shooting in a busy commercial district. Yemeni security officials said their investigation suggested the gunmen first attempted to kidnap Asadi by stopping his car. When the diplomat resisted, the assailants shot him and fled the area.
At the time, relations between Iran and Yemen had soured over what Sanaa called Iranian meddling in its domestic affairs.
Yemen's government and neighboring Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of supporting Shiite rebels in the country's north in an alleged effort to destabilize the impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation. Iran has dismissed the accusations.
Last year, the Shiite rebels known as the Houthis spread from their northern heartlands and fought their way across Yemen, seizing the capital, Sanaa, last September and several surrounding provinces.
The crisis has threatened to split Yemen and push the country into full-blown sectarian warfare. Though Tehran denies any military backing of the Houthis, Arab Gulf countries are unnerved by Shiite Iran's increasing assertiveness in the region.
Meanwhile, Ali Akbar Velayati, the adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatolah Ali Khamenei on foreign affairs, warned against outside intervention in Yemen, saying it would deteriorate the situation in both the country and the region, the semi-official Fars news agency reported later Wednesday.
Velayati was quoted as telling a visiting Yemeni delegation that "any sort of foreign intervention in Yemen's internal affairs" would lead to wider instability.
But despite the warning, Tehran has showcased its close ties to the Houthis. Iran sent its first direct flight with medical supplies and aid workers on Sunday, a day after rebel Houthi representatives signed an agreement in Tehran to set up 14 direct weekly flights between the two countries.
The move underscored how the Houthis were strengthening their grip over state institutions and exercising sovereign power in Sanaa, even as Yemen's embattled president insists he is still in charge after fleeing to the country's south.
Kidnapped Iranian diplomat held in Yemen since 2013 freed: Iran state media
DUBAI Thu Mar 5, 2015 2:07am EST
(Reuters) - An Iranian diplomat held hostage in Yemen since 2013 returned home on Thursday following an intelligence operation to free him, Iranian state media reported, days after a kidnapped Saudi Arabian diplomat was freed in Yemen.
Noor Ahmad Nikbakht, who was abducted by unidentified attackers in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in July 2013, arrived at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport on Thursday, state news agency IRNA reported.
"A special team from the Intelligence Ministry was able to free Nikbakht from the clutches of terrorists in a series of complex and difficult operations in a very particular part of Yemen," IRNA quoted deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying.
Nikbakht was the second high-profile hostage to be freed in Yemen this week. A Saudi Arabian diplomat kidnapped in 2012 was released on Monday, after being held by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemen has plunged deeper into turmoil since the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim Houthi group seized control of the capital in September last year.
Iran's state-run Press TV showed images on Thursday of Nikbakht, looking healthy and wearing a suit, meeting his family and Abdollahian at the airport.
(Reporting by Sam Wilkin, Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)
---Iran said Thursday that a team of special operatives has freed an Iranian diplomat abducted more than 19 months ago in Yemen, a rare acknowledgement by Tehran of an intel operation carried out on foreign soil.---

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