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Two Americans Freed From Houthi Captivity in Yemen

The U.S. confirmed Sunday that two Americans were released from Houthi captivity in Yemen.

Shiite-Huthi supporters shout slogans during a protest in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, against ongoing military operations carried out by the Saudi-led coalition and over claims that Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites and host to the Hajj, was denying Yemenis the right to attend this year's pilgrimage on September 11, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS        (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Shiite-Huthi supporters shout slogans during a protest in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, against ongoing military operations carried out by the Saudi-led coalition and over claims that Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites and host to the Hajj, was denying Yemenis the right to attend this year's pilgrimage on September 11, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Two American hostages have been released from Houthi captivity in Yemen, where they were being held hostage by the Iran-backed rebels.

The White House confirmed their release in a statement Sunday, and said the two recently freed hostages had arrived safely in Oman thanks to coordination with officials in Muscat. “This outcome underscores that we have been and will continue to be tireless in pursuing the release of all Americans detained abroad unjustly, including those who remain in the region,” the statement said.

Citing an Obama administration official, CNN identified the two Americans as Scott Darden and Sam Farran. Darden, who worked for U.S.-based Transoceanic Development, was reportedly taken hostage in Sanaa in March. Details about Farran were not immediately available, although a LinkedIn profile for a Sam Farran described him as a senior security consultant for Universal Eagles for Security Services, a Yemen-based company. It was was not immediately possible Sunday to confirm if he was the same man who had been held hostage.

The two Americans were reportedly flown from the Yemeni capital of Sanaa to Oman on Sunday, after officials from Muscat helped negotiate their release. Early news reports claimed they were released along with two Saudis and a Briton. Foreign Policy could not independently verify these claims.

In May, U.S. officials said Houthi rebels were holding at least four Americans, including three private sector employees and one Yemeni-American. In June, the Houthis released freelance American journalist Casey Coombs following negotiations also facilitated in part by Oman. Oman has long acted as an intermediary for tense negotiations, including for the release of hostages, in the Middle East. In August, French hostage Isabelle Prime, also held by Houthis in Yemen, was freed after Muscat intervened.

Houthi rebels have controlled large stretches of Yemen since last year, and in March they forced Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a Sunni Muslim, into exile in Saudi Arabia. The Iranian-backed Houthi rise to power worried officials in Riyadh, who feared the Shiite rebels’ control of Yemen would give Tehran an opportunity to assert its authority on Saudi borders. Saudi officials launched an ongoing coalition airstrike campaign against the rebels that began in late March and since then at least 4,500 people, almost half of whom were civilians, have been killed in the Yemeni civil war.

The Shiite clerical regime in Iran has provided weapons and other artillery support to the Houthis, and Washington has backed the Saudi campaign and provided intelligence for Riyadh’s operation there.

But with no clear political solution, the ongoing airstrikes and ground fighting have pushed the tiny country to the brink of famine and pose a major barrier to humanitarian workers there.

Despite both of their military contributions to the ongoing conflict, Riyadh and Tehran have pointed fingers at each other for blocking humanitarian aid to civilians trapped in Yemen.

In July, pro-government forces claimed they had retaken Aden, Yemen’s second-largest city, which fell to Houthis in March. And last week, in an attempt to assert normalcy, Yemeni Prime Minister and Vice President Khaled Bahah returned to Aden with seven of his ministers after months of exile in Saudi Arabia. A spokesman for the exiled government last week said the government would rejoin peace talks if the Houthis retreated from their metropolitan strongholds and recognized Hadi as president.

Meanwhile, Oman has remained largely neutral in the conflict. The country’s good relations with the Houthis, Iran, and the United States likely allowed for the hostage release on Sunday.

Muscat has previously hosted nuclear talks between the United States and Iran, and in June the Wall Street Journal reported that State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Oman “played a key role in facilitating the back channel between the United States and Iran that helped lead to the diplomacy taking place right now on the nuclear issue.” It was not immediately clear Sunday whether the release of Americans was at all tied to the nuclear deal, which is expected to slowly defrost the icy relationship between Washington and Tehran.

Photo credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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