Yemen hostage murders
Gun battle survivors tell how
took their revenge
by Rory Carroll and Brian Whitaker
Originally published in The Guardian, 31
IT WAS a hail of bullets from attacking
Yemeni government troops that triggered off the execution of the tourists by their
According to survivors, the Islamic extremists returned
fire with Kalashnikov automatic rifles, using their 16 hostages as cover. Then, during a
two-hour battle against the 200 troops, they turned their guns on the hostages in revenge
for a rescue attempt unprecedented in Yemen's history of kidnaps.
One hostage, Eric Firkin, speaking from the five-star
Movenpick hotel in Aden, and still wearing sandals dusty from the trek, described how the
attack began. 'We were being led into the mountains to a hideout. Then we heard the
gunfire.' Having crouched down to shelter from the bullets, at one point he raised his
head to see what was happening, and found himself with a gun pointed at his chest. 'I
said, 'No, no, no'.' He did not die but the kidnappers killed two prisoners 'in revenge'
as they fled. He said he saw one victim, a woman, shot in the back of her neck.
The hostages were split in two. Brian Smith said his group
tried to comfort each other by holding hands. Two were killed, and two were injured. 'We
were in the middle of a battle,' he said. 'We weren't armed, and we had no military
knowledge.' Three Britons and an Australian were killed and an American and a Briton were
wounded. Yemen's interior ministry said three kidnappers were killed and three captured in
the shoot-out near Mawdiyah town, 175 miles south of the capital, Sanna.
After debriefing the hostages, British consular officials
in Aden talked of acts of self-sacrifice. 'All three countries (Britain, Australia and the
could be very proud of their citizens,' said one diplomat.
An unnamed hostage said from the hotel: 'It was a horrible experience and we are lucky to
be alive. Our thoughts are with the families of the people - our friends - who were
killed.' The accounts given contradict the Yemeni government's version of events, that
security forces only opened fire after the kidnappers began killing hostages.
The 16 - 12 Britons, two Americans and two Australians -
were seized a day earlier in an ambush on their five-vehicle convoy.
Mohammad Saleh al-Turaiq, chief of security in Aden
province, insisted the kidnappers fired first. 'The Egyptian began shooting at the
hostages, which forced our troops to storm the hideout,' he said in the presence of the
Yemen's embassy in London, attempting to deflect
criticism, issued a statement: 'The kidnappers were terrorists belonging to Islamic Jihad
and their aim was martyrdom.
'The security forces made their move after the kidnappers
had started killing the hostages, and the aim of the action was to prevent further
killings and to save the lives of the hostages.
'The government and the people of Yemen are deeply shocked
at the tragic loss of innocent lives, and sincerely share the grief of the families and
relatives of the victims.' Jihad was originally made up of Arab veterans of the Afghan
war, working with tribal elements in southern Yemen. They have been accused of past
attacks, including the Aden hotel bombing of 1992. More recently Jihad split, and it was
one of the resulting minor groups that carried out Monday's attack.