An oilman with East Texas roots was kidnapped in Yemen over the weekend, according to the New York Times. Sixty-three-year old Danny Lavone Burch, who grew up in East Texas and has been working in Yemen since the eighties, was abducted from his car by unidentified gunmen on a busy street in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, on Saturday morning. According to Agence France-Presse, Burch was taken after dropping off his children at a swimming pool. “They did it in broad daylight in front of everyone,” Nadia Forsa, Burch’s wife, told the Times on Monday. Forsa said police told her that witnesses said Burch had been stopped on the street by five armed men in civilian clothes, who drove a pickup truck with no license plates.
That’s about all we know so far about the circumstances of Burch’s kidnapping. It’s not uncommon for Westerners to be kidnapped in conflict-riddled Yemen, and it’s definitely not a safe place for Americans right now. In May, the U.S. State Department issued its most recent travel warning for Yemen, urging Americans not to travel to the war-torn country, and those who live there to leave. As the Times notes, ethnic Shiite Houthi rebels have control of Sanaa after overrunning the capital three years ago, and the nation remains split between factions including the Houthis, supporters of Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and a Saudi-backed international coalition fighting to regain control for the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
Al Qaeda affiliate AQAP also has a large presence throughout the country, and that group has been known to kidnap foreigners to squeeze their governments for ransom. Rebel groups have also “systematically detained” U.S. citizens since the current conflict in Yemen began in 2015, according to the State Department. Some of these detentions have lasted for more than a year, with no opportunity for the detainees to contact their families or be visited by U.S. officials or international humanitarian organizations.
Still, it’s pretty rare for Americans to be kidnapped in Yemen. Al Qaeda affiliates typically target foreigners from European countries, which are more willing to fork over ransoms than the U.S. is. British-born American photojournalist Luke Somers was kidnapped in Sanaa in 2013, and was killed by his AQAP captors a year later during a rescue attempt led by U.S. forces. An Australian man was abducted in Sanaa around this time last year, and in January his captors released a video showing the man was safe and asking for a ransom. He was released “safe and well” in May after the Australian and Omani governments mediated with Yemeni tribes.
According to the Times, no group has claimed responsibility for Burch’s kidnapping yet. But in Houthi-held Sanaa, it seems unlikely AQAP would be behind the abduction (AQAP and the Houthis don’t like each other, and according to the Times, AQAP isn’t believed to have a presence in Sanaa). Two of Burch’s coworkers in Sanaa told Reuters that Houthi forces were responsible, but they did not offer any more information.
Burch is from Louisiana but grew up in the Longview area, where he was an outside linebacker on White Oak High School’s 1971 football team that reached the Class A state semifinals, according to the Longview News-Journal. He went on to graduate from Kilgore College. Burch is the eldest of six brothers, and one of his younger brothers, Ron, told the Kilgore News Herald that he hadn’t heard anything about his brother in fourteen years until this week, when he received word of the kidnapping.
“A good brother,” Ron Burch, of Kilgore, told the Herald. “Danny took me in when I was down and out. He took me in, gave me a place to sleep, helped me get back on my feet with a job and some of other things. He was pretty much an oilfield dad. Barely at home, always busy, always working.” Ron Burch said his brother had raised three grown kids with his first wife while working in Texas for oil companies like Haliburton and Hunt. After a divorce, he met Nadia while overseas, converted to Islam, and moved to Yemen for good. “He fell in love, man,” Ron Burch told the News-Journal. “My brother is that way. He forgot everything else in his life.”
“I hope that he’s safe and is returned to his family,” Ron Burch added, according to the News-Journal. “He’s never been a person who has spite or would cause problems for folks over there.”
Burch isn’t the only Texan believed to be held hostage in the Middle East. Austin Tice, a journalist and former Marine from Houston, was abducted in Syria in 2012. He has yet to be released, but in Tice’s parents told the New York Times in June that they have reason to believe he is still alive and remain hopeful he’ll come home safe and sound.