Last updated: 10 May, 2013

Finnish and Austrian hostages freed, says Yemeni official

Two Finnish hostages who spent more than four months in captivity in Yemen returned home on Friday, little more than a day after being released.

Atte and Leila Kaleva, a married couple, arrived at Helsinki airport on a special plane chartered by the Finnish government, evading journalists waiting for them.

“We are happy to be back in Finland,” said the couple in a statement read aloud by an official from the Finnish foreign ministry.

The two Finns and an Austrian man, 26-year-old Dominik Neubauer, were seized in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on December 21.

They were freed by local tribesmen on the border with Oman on Wednesday night, according to a Yemeni official.

The couple said in their statement that during their captivity they had been fed well and had access to medicine if needed.

They thanked the Finnish media for not having unveiled their identities during their captivity.

After the successful conclusion of the case, several media reported that they knew who the hostages were but chose to remain silent.

Disclosure of their identities could have complicated efforts to seek their release, as Atte Kaleva, a military officer currently on leave, was in Yemen to do research for a university thesis on political radicalisation in the Middle East. His wife is a petroleum industry executive.

While some press reports said a ransom had been paid to secure the release of the Austrian hostage, the Finnish government denied any payment.

“The most important thing is that Finland has paid nothing,” said Teemu Turunen, an official with the foreign ministry.

“At no time” had the Finnish negotiators been in direct contact with the kidnappers, he said.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger also denied that any money changes hands, telling ORF radio on Friday: “We always sought a solution without a ransom. And we achieved that.”

He also thanked the government of Oman for its help, after Vienna contacted them for assistance in the case.

Austrian daily Kurier reported Friday that Neubauer had left the military hospital in Vienna where he was brought with the two Finns after they were freed on Thursday, but remained under psychiatric care in an undisclosed location.