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Qaeda suspected as Iranian diplomat seized in Yemen

A Yemeni soldier stands on a hill overlooking Sanna, on January 13, 2010
A Yemeni soldier stands on a hill overlooking Sanna, on January 13, 2010. Gunmen suspected of being members of Al-Qaeda kidnapped an Iranian diplomat in broad daylight on Sunday in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, police said.

Gunmen suspected of being members of Al-Qaeda kidnapped an Iranian diplomat in broad daylight on Sunday in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, police said.

"An Iranian diplomat was abducted on Sunday in Sanaa by armed men," a Yemeni security source told AFP, adding that the envoy was "taken to an unknown destination".

Police said a search was under way to try to locate the man who was snatched in the street near the embassy in the southern Hadda district of the city.

In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi told the ISNA news agency that "one of the administrative staff members of the Iranian Embassy in Yemen has been abducted by an unknown group".

"This person is Iranian," Araqchi confirmed, naming him as Nour-Ahmad Nikbakht.

Iranian media said Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi had telephoned his Yemeni counterpart Abu Bakr al-Kurbi to say Tehran "condemned this inhumane act and urged the Yemen government to take serious action to release the diplomat".

The reports also said that Sanaa's charge d'affaires was summoned to the foreign ministry in Tehran to hear "serious concerns regarding the fate of its diplomat".

It was the first time an Iranian is known to be the victim of a kidnapping in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.

The abduction comes at a time of tensions between mostly Sunni Muslim Yemen and Shiite Iran, which has been accused by Sanaa of aiding Shiite Zaidi rebels in north Yemen.

ISNA quoted an unidentified embassy source as saying there was no information about the kidnappers, and that a witness to the abduction had told the embassy about it.

"There are suspicions that Al-Qaeda is behind the kidnapping," a Yemeni security officer said, although the police official said the kidnappers' identities were not known.

Militants from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the network's deadliest branch according to the United States, have been holding Saudi Arabia's deputy consul in Aden, Abdullah al-Khalidi, since March 2012.

AQAP militants are demanding the release of female Al-Qaeda-linked prisoners held in Saudi Arabia in return for Khalidi's release.

They have also held a South African couple since May.

Hundreds of people have been abducted in Yemen in the past 15 years, nearly all of them later freed unharmed.

Kidnappings are often carried out by tribesmen who use their captors as bargaining chips in disputes with the central government.

A Dutch couple abducted in Yemen last month issued an impassioned plea in an Internet video this month for their government to act to secure their release, warning they face execution.

Journalist Judith Spiegel and her partner Boudewijn Berendsen appear in the minute-and-a-half clip posted on YouTube and Facebook and dated July 13.

"We have been kidnapped here in Yemen and we have a big problem," said an emotional Spiegel sitting next to Berendsen.

"These people are armed. If a solution is not found within 10 days, they are going to shoot us."

In early May, members of a southern tribe freed three Red Cross employees, including a Swiss and a Kenyan, along with two Egyptian hostages, following tribal mediation.

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