U.S. journalist Casey Coombs freed by Yemen's Houthi rebels

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U.S. freelance journalist Casey Coombs, who had been held captive in Yemen, arrives in Oman

An American freelance journalist who had been held by insurgents in Yemen since last month has been freed, U.S. officials said Monday.

News of the release of Casey Coombs, one of several Americans believed to have been detained by the Shiite Muslim rebels known as Houthis, came as a video surfaced of a French woman, who was being held separately in Yemen, tearfully pleading for her freedom.

The State Department confirmed that the U.S. journalist, Coombs, had arrived in the Persian Gulf state of Oman. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington that he was in “stable” condition but provided no details.

Coombs’ release coincided with deadly new violence in Yemen, an impoverished but strategic state that has been devastated by a Saudi Arabia-led air offensive, now in its third month.

A wave of heavy explosions rocked Sana from before dawn and into the evening on Monday, killing at least 20 people, Yemen’s Health Ministry said.

Bombardments beginning around 1 a.m. targeted Houthi positions, including the area around the presidential palace and a base on Mt. Niqum, on the city’s eastern outskirts. Casualties were also reported at a school in the southeastern district of Musaik where displaced people had been sheltering.

Ambulance sirens wailed and huge plumes of smoke rose into the air as terrified civilians fled.

More strikes took place in the strategic port city of Aden and the southern town of Dali, residents and officials said.

The Saudi-led air offensive against the insurgents and their allies has been widely criticized by international human rights groups for endangering civilians. About 2,000 people, many of them noncombatants, have died in the bombing campaign that began March 26.

Strikes on weapons caches often trigger secondary blasts and send shrapnel flying into densely populated neighborhoods. That happened again in Monday’s bombardment, with powerful explosions closely following one another. 

The London-based rights group Amnesty International also said last week that Houthi antiaircraft munitions have killed or maimed dozens of civilians.

Air raids on the Mt. Niqum area and elsewhere in Sana last Wednesday killed more than three dozen people. Combined with fatalities from strikes on several other towns and cities, it was thought to have been the deadliest day of the Saudi-led air offensive.

Meanwhile, a video was posted on YouTube showing the 30-year-old French woman who was snatched off the street in Sana in February by unknown abductors, a few weeks before the start of the air war.

The video, which was authenticated by French officials although the date it was shot could not be established, showed Isabelle Prime, a consultant to the World Bank, appealing for help from the French and Yemeni governments.

A Yemeni woman who had been acting as Prime’s translator was captured as well, but was later freed.

Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report. Special correspondent Al-Alayaa reported from Sana and staff writer King from Cairo.

Twitter: @laurakingLAT

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:11 p.m.: This article has been updated with the report of other Americans held in Yemen.

12:25 p.m.: This article has been updated with the release of an American held in Yemen.

10:10 a.m.: This article has been updated with reports of additional airstrikes and casualty details.

This article was originally published at 3:45 a.m.

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