An American tourist couple and their driver have been kidnapped by gunmen in Yemen, security and tribal sources said on Saturday.

They were seized on Monday by armed members of the al—Shirda tribe as they drove on a highway linking the capital Sana’a with the Red Sea port city of Houdieda, security sources said.

“They were on a tour when armed tribesmen intercepted their car and took them,” a police source told the German Press Agency dpa.

Tribal sources said the abductors are holding the pair now in Bani Mansour area of al—Haymah district, 45 km to the west of Sana’a.

They said the kidnappers are demanding the release of a fellow tribesman detained by police in Sana’a over a land dispute.

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington that the abduction did not appear to be terrorism related. “We are working actively with local authorities to gain the release of our two US citizens,” he said.

Police erected check points on roads leading to al—Haymah and sent armoured personnel carriers to the area to press on the kidnappers to release the two hostages, witnesses said.

An anonymous source claiming to be in touch with the gunmen said the hostages were being well—treated, the Yemen Observer weekly reported.

Last week, two young German girls were freed during a joint Yemeni—Saudi security operation. They had been seized — along with their parents, younger brother, two other German women, a South

Korean female teacher and a British engineer — last year.

Kidnapping of Westerners is a common practice by Yemeni tribes, but it often ends peacefully.

Disgruntled tribesmen from impoverished areas of Yemen often take hostages to use as bargaining chips to press the government for aid, jobs or the release of detained fellow clansmen.

In 1998, an Islamic militant group kidnapped 16 Western tourists, four of whom died in a botched rescue attempt by police forces, and in 2000 a Norwegian diplomat was killed in a similar rescue attempt.

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