Source: AFP, 12/12/2010
ADEN, Yemen — Gunmen from Yemen's secessionist Southern Movement on Saturday kidnapped seven soldiers after a man was sentenced to die for bombings that reportedly killed at least three people at a sports club.
The soldiers were seized just hours after sentence was handed down on Fares Abdullah Saleh, and a spokesman for the Southern Movement said their abduction was to put pressure on the authorities to free Saleh and other prisoners.
Taher Tammah, a Southern Movement military official, said the group seized "seven soldiers including an officer at Daleh and Lahij, and in exchange for their freedom demand the release of their colleagues arrested before the regional football tournament."
The Gulf Cup football tournament was staged in south Yemen's Aden and Abyan provinces from November 22 to December 5. It was held under tight security after the Southern Movement had vowed to try to disrupt the competition.
"The hostages are in good health and being well-treated. They are now in the mountains near the town of Habilain," Tammah added.
Saleh's brother, Raed, was also sentenced by a special criminal court for security cases to five years over the twin October 11 bombings in Aden, which medical officials said had also wounded 14 other people at Al-Wahda club.
Another brother, Ali, was acquitted, as were two other men, Hazem Yahya Saleh and Mukhtar Mohsen Ahmed.
The five Yemenis are aged between 25 and 35.
Witnesses said hundreds of people protested against the sentences in Daleh, a centre of frequent anti-government demonstrations in the south, blocking off the main road and burning tyres in the town centre.
Gunmen also fired into the air and vowed revenge against authorities.
Earlier, a security source spoke of six soldiers being seized by gunmen linked to the Southern Movement, whose members want either independence or increased autonomy for south Yemen.
"It turns out that Saleh had been prompted to carry out the (sports club) attack by a leader of the Southern Movement," the security source added.
During questioning, Saleh was reported to have implicated Southern Movement leader for Daleh province Shalal Ali al-Shaea in the Al-Wahda bombing, but a defence lawyer said this information was obtained "under duress."
On Friday, Yemeni authorities freed the head of the supreme council of the Southern Movement, Hassan Baoum, who was arrested ahead of the tournament along with several other activists, a security official said.
Yemen's south, where many residents complain of discrimination in the allocation of resources by the Sanaa government, was independent from the 1967 British withdrawal from Aden until it united with the north in 1990.
The region seceded in 1994, sparking a short-lived civil war that ended with it being overrun by northern troops.