Exclusive: Kidnapped Americans' Cell Phone Guides Yemen Rescuers

Yemeni tribal kidnappers were so nice they slaughtered a goat for captives.

May 28, 2010, 1:50 PM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, May 28, 2010. -- Two Americans held hostage this week by Yemeni tribesmen said they were able to use their cell phones to tell authorities where they were, even sending photos of their hiding place.

And while they were held against their will, they also said the kidnappers were hospitable, even slaughtering a goat in their honor.

Ludmila Yamalova and Glen Davis were kidnapped while touring the rural al-Haima region of Yemen, an area they considered "off the beaten path, but still considered safe."

After stopping to take photos with their two Yemeni tour guides, the couple was surrounded by 10 men in tribal dress, armed with guns and daggers.

They were "very agitated, very scary, very angry," said Davis. "It appeared they didn't have a plan except to abduct us. And when they did, they didn't know what to do."

On the nearly three hour drive into the remote countryside, Yamalova, a Californian and prominent attorney in Dubai, slid her hands into her purse and secretly texted a contact at the U.S. consulate.

"I was able to send them a message that said, we've been kidnapped in Yemen, this is not a joke," she told ABC News.

"There were four of us, us two and the two guides. So through them [the guides] we were able to get some information, and as that information came in we were reporting it back through the cell phone," she said.

The kidnappers drove their captives to a rustic hilltop castle in a village with no electricity or running water. After being up a dark staircase to the top floor, they were left alone. The tour guides were given the option to leave, but they stayed to translate for the couple and keep them company.

"Through our guides we determined that [the kidnappers] wanted to get someone released from the prison from their tribe, that we were going to be the hostage in the middle that allowed them to get this guy out," Yamalova said.

From the top of the tower they pulled together information to send back to U.S. officials, a kind of trail of digital bread crumbs that would help the Yemeni government find them and negotiate their release.

"I used my phone to take a view from our window, and sent that photo," said Yamalova.

"We communicated the name of the village, the name of the tribe, the name of the person who abducted us, even the name of the person they wanted to release?where we were, the view from our 'hotel,' and the picture of the leader himself. So they had everything."

Yemeni security forces, they later learned, would surround the area. A U.S. embassy official gave them directions to check in every few hours, conserving cell phone battery and preserving their morale through what could be weeks of waiting.

Yemen Kidnapping: Patience with a Tribal Process

"Their message was be patient. Most of these situations resolve safely, but there is a process that needs to play out," said Yamalova.

Kidnappings are common in Yemen where tribes exercise control over provincial areas, and swap hostages for concessions from the government. As the presence of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has become more pronounced, U.S. officials say the terror network has become increasingly involved in the kidnapping trade.

From the start of their captivity Davis, and Yamalova had a view of the verdant gorges below. They watched coming cars and tribal sheiks file into meetings, talks over what to do with their American captives.

"Every one of those cars that came, I wondered, is this an Al Qaeda guy that they're going to come and basically hand us off and take us further into the abyss? So that was a big worry of mine," said Davis, a 54-year-old stock broker from Portland, Ore.

Yamalova, 35, spent her time writing in a journal, and meeting the women and girls of the village. They spoke no English, and were clearly stunned by her blond hair and light skin.

''I couldn't even use the term 'OK,''' she said.

The villagers warmed to the couple. Some disagreed with the decision to hold them hostage.

"On one hand I felt like a prisoner. On the other hand they treated us like guests," said Davis. He said the village killed a sheep in the couple's honor, and offered them Qat, a mild narcotic leaf chewed by a majority of Yemenis.

"They were upset that Luda and I didn't partake because it's apparently a sign of friendship," said Davis.

"They came to talk to us, asked if we needed anything, continued to try to reassure us that they didn't want to harm us. They had their own tribal agenda with the government that they wanted to resolve. And we were unfortunately in the middle."

On their second day in captivity they watched from a rooftop as SUVs snaked down the mountain road, and tribal leaders filed into a meeting. They were released after a provincial official, a member of a prominent local tribe, went with government backing to negotiate their release.

On Friday a Yemeni government official declined to comment on the substance of the negotiation, or what concessions were made to secure their release.

Kidnap Victim Would Go Back to Yemen

Now back in Dubai, Davis says the couple's relationship grew closer from the ordeal.

"I told her we've redefined intimacy as I hold a flashlight overhead while she uses a primitive toilet," he said. He added that Yamalova was prescient in packing toilet paper in her purse the morning they were abducted.

He said the pair would go back to visit Yemen, though they would look over their shoulders more cautiously.

"The factors that drew me to Yemen are still there," said Yamalova. "The country is beautiful and the people are wonderful."

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