A video purportedly showing French-Tunisian Red Cross employee Nourane Houas pleading with French President François Hollande for her life was obtained by FRANCE 24 Friday. Houas was kidnapped in Yemen in early December.
In the short video clip, a pale and visibly distressed Houas, dressed in an all-covering black robe, pleads with French and Yemeni authorities for her life.
"I ask French President François Hollande, the legitimate President of the Republic of Yemen Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the countries of the Arab coalition led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the leaders of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sanaa and Geneva to save me from near death, as soon as possible, by meeting the demands of my captors because my life and my health are in a very precarious state.”
On the video, Houas states the date of the recording as April 13. She provided no details of her captors or their demands.
French officials have so far not commented on the veracity of the video clip, but if it is authentic, it would be the first sign of life of the French-Tunisian aid worker since her abduction more than five months ago.
In a statement emailed to FRANCE 24 Friday, a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman confirmed that Houas had been kidnapped in Yemen in December 2015 and that the government was “working with the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] to secure her release”.
'Probably a criminal act'
According to Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert in militant Islamist groups, it is unlikely that Houas was kidnapped by a jihadist group, rather that her kidnapping was "probably a criminal act by a local group for local reasons”, including seeking a ransom payment or attempting to settle scores between rival or warring groups.
For more than five months, Houas’s abduction was kept under wraps, possibly in a bid to enable secret negotiations for her release. But Nasr noted that, “Now that her captors have let us know that they are aware she is a French national, their demands could increase or change.”
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told FRANCE 24 Friday that the organisation’s top priority was “getting our colleague back”, and that “difficult negotiations” were under way in the context of a “very tough conflict for humanitarian organisations”.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies intervened in the civil war in Yemen on March 26 last year in support of Yemen's government, after it was pushed into exile by Shiite Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia claims the Houthis are funded by Shiite superpower Iran pitting the conflict in sectarian terms.
The war has killed more than 6,200 people, displaced more than 2.5 million and caused a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world's poorest countries.
An impoverished, lawless Arab nation, Yemen is home to several heavily armed tribal as well as jihadist groups such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).