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UAE forces rescue British hostage in Yemen

UAE soldiers freed an oil worker kidnapped by al-Qaeda in February 2014
Emirati soldiers are part of a Saudi-led campaign supporting Yemen's government against Iran-backed rebels (AFP)

United Arab Emirates soldiers have rescued a British hostage held for more than 18 months by al-Qaeda in Yemen, authorities in Abu Dhabi and London said on Sunday.

Robert Douglas Semple, a 64-year-old oil worker, was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in February 2014 while working in Hadramawt province, a stronghold of the group.

According to the UAE’s state news agency, WAM, UAE forces freed Semple in a military operation on Saturday and took him to Yemen's main southern city of Aden, from where he was flown to Abu Dhabi overnight.

Emirati soldiers are part of a Saudi-led campaign supporting Yemen's government against Iran-backed rebels.

The statement provided no details about the operation or where Semple had been held.

The Foreign Office in London confirmed that a British hostage in Yemen was freed by UAE forces but did not identify him.

"I'm pleased to confirm that a British hostage held in Yemen has been extracted by UAE forces in a military intelligence operation," Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement released while he was in Tehran to reopen the British embassy. 

Hammond said the freed hostage was "safe and well" and that Britain was "very grateful for the assistance of the UAE".

The statement carried by WAM said Semple had been met at the airport in Abu Dhabi by UAE officials and the British ambassador.

WAM said Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan had telephoned British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday night to inform him of the operation.

Cameron later Tweeted: "I'm so pleased for the family of the British hostage in Yemen -- who has been released safe and well. Thanks to the UAE for their help."

Kidnapping has long been rife in Yemen, with hostages often used as bargaining chips between rival groups.

Earlier this month French hostage Isabelle Prime arrived in Oman following her release in Yemen after nearly six months of captivity.

Last year British teacher Mike Harvey was released after being held for five months in Yemen following negotiations.

In December, US journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie died during a failed attempt by US commandos to rescue them from an al-Qaeda hideout in southeastern Yemen.

The UAE, a longtime Western ally, is a key partner in the Saudi-led coalition that in March launched air strikes against the Huthi rebels as they advanced on Aden, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government to flee to Riyadh.