February 24, 2015 / 11:52 AM / 5 years ago

Gunmen kidnap Frenchwoman and Yemeni driver in Sanaa

SANAA (Reuters) - Gunmen kidnapped a Frenchwoman and her local driver in Yemen’s capital on Tuesday morning as she was on her way to work, Yemeni security sources and French authorities said.

The unidentified gunmen intercepted the vehicle on 45th Street in central Sanaa and took the two people to an unknown location, the Yemeni sources said.

“She was kidnapped in front of a ministry in Yemen,” French President Francois Hollande told a news conference.

“We ask for her to be released as soon as possible, we are trying to locate her and will do all we can for her to be freed.”

The 30-year-old Frenchwoman was a consultant to Yemen’s Social Fund for Development, a state fund set up in 1997 to promote development and poverty reduction.

Speaking on France 2 TV, Francisco Ayala of Ayala Consulting, employer of the abducted woman, said she had been kidnapped by five or six gunmen dressed in police uniforms.

“She had a tendency to minimise the risks of her mission which aimed to give help to poor people,” he said.

Police said they were searching for the abducted people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The kidnapping comes just over a month after three Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in a spate of attacks in Paris.

Two of the men, who shot staff at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in revenge for the publication of satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, had travelled to Yemen.

They claimed they had carried out the attacks on behalf of al Qaeda’s wing in the Gulf state, which has since threatened more attacks on French interests.

France said on Feb. 13 it was closing its embassy in Yemen due to security concerns and has asked its citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

Yemen has been in turmoil since Shi’ite Muslim Houthi militias seized the capital in September.

In recent years tribesmen have often taken foreigners hostage to press the government to provide them with services or to free jailed relatives.

The country is also home to one of the most active branches of al Qaeda, which has also targeted foreigners.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa, John Irish and Marine Pennetier in Paris; writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Andrew Roche

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