By Jihan Anwer
After 139 days in captivity, two Finns and one Austrian that were kidnapped in December have been released.
Finnish couple Leila and Atte Kaleva, and Austrian national Dominik Neubauer were released on 8 May and reached Finland on Friday.
The deal to free the hostages seemed to have been reached between Yemeni tribes and Omani officials.
Yemeni security officials, as well as the ministries of defense and interior, were reportedly surprised by the high level security and low key profile of the coordination that led to the freedom of the three hostages.
Sources say that the three Europeans had been freed in Oman for at least three days before their release was announced on Wednesday night and confirmed by Finland and Austria on Thursday.
On 21 February a video was released of 26 years old student Dominik Neubauer with an AK47 automatic rifle pointed at his head. In the video, the first sign that the hostage was still alive, Neubauer stated the following:
“My name is Dominik Neubauer. I’m an Austrian citizen. I’ve been taken hostage on the 21st of December 2012 by a Yemeni tribe. I appeal to the Yemeni government, to the Austrian government and to all the governments concerned and to the European Union to give them what they want. Otherwise, they will kill me seven days after this video is published.”
Worryingly, the two Finnish citizens that were kidnapped with him were not mentioned in the video message, nor is the Finnish government directly mentioned. At the time, a spokesman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry said that the ministry had received the video but declined to say who the exact source was, according to AlArabiya news.
Sources say that four million Euros was initially demanded by the tribes for each hostage; Austrian and Finland Foreign Ministers deny that any ransom was paid.
“We abide by international agreements, whereby we do not support the financing of terrorists,” declared Finnish Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomioja, at a press conference.
A statement from Leila and Atte Kaleva was read which mentioned that they were treated well during the time we were held and that food, water and medicine was provided to them as needed.
“Since our liberation, we have been told how responsibly the media in Finland handled the case,” read the statement. Various Finnish media outlets reportedly knew the identity of the Finnish citizens but omitted to mention it as it might have complicated their release.
Leila Kaleva is an executive of Nestle while Atte Kaleva is part of the Finnish Defence Forces. Atte was in Yemen to do research for a university thesis on political radicalization in the Middle East.
In a statement, Spokesperson of EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, expressed her gratitude to the Omani authorities and to Yemeni President Hadi and his transitional government who worked tirelessly, in close cooperation with the EU and particularly with the Finnish and Austrian authorities, to end the hostages’ nearly five month-long ordeal.
The three Europeans were kidnapped on 21 December, in the capital Sana’a. While in Tahrir Square, a car stopped, four masked gunmen seized the three Europeans and speed away. It is unclear if they were abducted by Al-Qaeda militants directly or a Yemeni tribe that later sold them to Al-Qaeda affiliates.