Armed tribesmen kidnapped two American tourists on Monday in rugged territory about 45 miles outside the capital, Sana, according to news reports and Yemeni security officials.
The man and woman were traveling by car when they and their Yemeni driver and guide were abducted in al-Haymah district. The Yemen Observer reported that gunmen brought the Americans, believed to be a man and his wife, to a village where they were offered food and qat leaves, a mild stimulant traditionally chewed by Yemenis.
Media reports said the kidnappers were demanding the release of a clansman arrested in a land dispute. Tribesmen often kidnap foreigners in an attempt to pressure the government to improve services and for prisoner swaps. Two Chinese oil workers were abducted in a southern province last week and released days later, authorities said.
Hostages' ordeals don't always go smoothly. Two German girls kidnapped nearly a year ago were rescued by security forces last week along Yemen's northern border with Saudi Arabia. The Yemeni government said the girls were taken by a group with connections to al-Qaida. Three foreigners traveling with the girls and their family were killed. The girls' brother and parents are still missing.
The snatching of the Americans, whose names were not released, was a reminder of how weak government control is beyond the capital. Lawlessness has turned the Arabian Peninsula nation into a haven for Islamic militants and criminal networks. U.S. military and intelligence officials have been working with Yemen to weaken an al-Qaida offshoot that claimed responsibility for the failed Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner.
The U.S. State Department said Monday's kidnapping was apparently not an act of terrorism. "There has been unfortunately a bit of a side business in what are called 'tourist kidnappings' where, for whatever reason, a certain tribe has a particular grievance with the (Yemeni) government and uses the presence of foreigners for leverage," spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "So we have every reason to believe that this is one of those cases."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.