RIYADH - A Saudi diplomat, kidnapped in Yemen almost three years ago and handed to Al-Qaeda, has been freed and returned to the kingdom, the interior ministry said on Monday.

Abdullah al-Khalidi, deputy consul in the southern port city of Aden, who was kidnapped on March 28, 2012, was freed following "intense efforts" by the Saudi intelligence services, a ministry statement carried by the official SPA news agency said without elaborating. Less than one month after his abduction, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula demanded the freeing of all its members detained in Saudi Arabia as well as a ransom in exchange for the diplomat's release.

His captors initially asked for $10 million but later doubled the ransom demand to $20 million, a tribal mediator told AFP in August 2012. It was unclear if Saudi authorities paid any money in exchange for Khalidi's eventual release. The interior ministry said the diplomat had been handed over to Al-Qaeda "in a suspicious deal" after his kidnap in Aden.

 He "will undergo medical examinations and be reunited with his family," SPA said.

AQAP was formed from a merger of the jihadist network's Yemeni and Saudi branches and is regarded by Washington as its most dangerous arm. In recent years, it has carried out a growing number of abductions, with several hostages still in captivity. In December, AQAP shot dead American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie during an abortive attempt by US commandos to rescue them from the hideout in southeastern Yemen where they were being held.