Houthi rebels hold Yemeni employees of the U.S. government hostage after breaching the former embassy’s compound, the State Department confirmed.
A spokesperson for the agency confirmed to multiple news outlets on Thursday that the Biden administration is seeking the immediate release of Yemeni staff who worked for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Sanaa and were detained by Houthi militants.
“We call on the Houthis to immediately vacate it and return all seized property. The U.S. government will continue its diplomatic efforts to secure the release of our staff and the vacating of our compound, including through our international partners,” the spokesperson reportedly said.
The spokesperson told Fox News that the “majority” of hostages were released but some “continue to be detained without explanation.”
In 2015, the United States suspended embassy operations in Yemen, about five months after the start of the country’s ongoing civil war between Houthi forces and a Saudi-led coalition that backs President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Unconfirmed reports said that a group of Houthis breached the U.S. compound and obtained “large quantities of equipment and materials,” according to Al-Masdar News.
“We’ve seen some progress and we’re continuing to work this critical issue. The majority of those who have been detained are no longer in custody,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday, noting that the State Department is “committed to ensuring the safety of those who serve the U.S. government overseas.”
In February, the Biden administration removed the Houthis—a Shia group that is said to receive significant material support from Iran—from its foreign terrorist watch list and announced ending American support for the Saudi-led coalition’s operations in the region
Timothy Lenderking, who was named by the administration as the special envoy to Yemen, traveled to the region earlier this month, according to the State Department. His trip was a bid to press the “Houthis to stop their offensive on Marib and repeated attacks against civilian areas, which are exacerbating the humanitarian crisis.”
On Nov. 10, the Saudi coalition announced its troops were redeploying in line with its strategy to support Yemeni forces, but were not withdrawing.
The spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition, General Turki al-Malki, told Reuters reports circulating about a Saudi military withdrawal from south Yemen were “baseless and unfounded.”
“Movement and redeployment of troops based on operational and tactical assessment” was a standard operation “in all military forces across the world,” Malki said.
The State Department did not immediately return a request for comment.
Reuters contributed to this report.