SANAA (AFP) – Efforts intensified Wednesday to find a French woman and her Yemeni interpreter kidnapped in crisis-hit Yemen, with relatives reaching out to tribal chiefs and Shiite militiamen in control of the capital.
Unidentified gunmen seized 30-year-old Isabelle Prime – a consultant working on a World Bank-funded project – and her interpreter Sherine Makkaoui from a car in Sanaa on Tuesday.
Their abduction has sparked a widening search, and prompted calls by France for its nationals to avoid the impoverished Gulf nation following months of unrest.
“We contacted various tribal leaders in Sanaa and in the provinces of Jawf and Marib to ensure their cooperation for the release of the two women,” Yassine Makkaoui, the uncle of the Yemeni abductee, told AFP.
“We have also contacted, for the same reason, the interior ministry and the Huthis,” he added, referring to the Shiite militia that has seized power in the capital.
Kidnappings are common in Yemen, where security has significantly worsened since the Huthis – also known as Ansarullah – swept into Sanaa unopposed in September.
After their attempts to expand into southern and central Yemen were checked by fierce fighting with Al-Qaeda and Sunni tribesmen, the Huthis moved to take power this month in what Yemen’s Gulf neighbours branded a “coup”.
Makkaoui said he blamed the Shiite militia for the lack of security in the capital that allowed his niece and Prime to be abducted.
“The kidnapping took place in broad daylight in the centre of Sanaa where the Huthis are responsible for maintaining order,” Makkaoui said.
“They control both the ministries of defence and interior, and we hold them responsible” for the fate of the two women, he added.
Prime and her Yemeni colleague were seized after their car was stopped by men dressed as police officers, according to the Frenchwoman’s employer Ayala Consulting.
“There has been some contact” with the kidnappers, Francisco Ayala, president of the consulting firm based in Miami and Ecuador, told AFP.
Western nations including Britain, France and the United States closed their embassies in Yemen this month over security concerns and have also called on their citizens to leave.
France’s foreign ministry said Tuesday its nationals should “leave the country as fast as possible”.