Britons "were used as human shields"
Yemen survivors say army attack
provoked murder of hostages
by Rory Carroll and Brian Whitaker
Originally published in The
Guardian, 31 December, 1998
YEMENI kidnappers used British tourists as
human shields and executed them after security forces stormed their hide-out, survivors
said yesterday, contradicting the authorities' version of the botched rescue.
The hostages were caught in the middle after government
troops opened fire and the Islamic extremists tried to escape, leaving four hostages dead
and two wounded.
'It was getting tenser and tenser and the abductors were
getting more keen to use us as human shields. We were told to stand up in open ground with
our hands up,' said BRIAN Smith, aged 52, a Peterborough postal worker. Bullets whizzed
overhead for two hours, he added.
Another hostage, Eric Firkins, aged 55, a chemistry
professor from Croydon, south London, said: 'The worst time for me was when a barrel was
pointed at my chest.' The kidnappers had split their 16 captives into two groups and were
leading them to a mountain hide-out on Tuesday when they heard gunfire from government
The dead Britons were named as Peter Rowe, aged 60, a
maths lecturer at Durham University; Margaret Whitehouse, aged 53, a teacher from Hook,
Hampshire; and Ruth Williamson, aged 34, from Edinburgh. Andrew Thirsk, aged 35, of
Sydney, Australia, also died.
Dr Rowe's wife, Claire Marston, aged 43, was in
Al-Jamhouriya Hospital in Aden, recovering from serious gunshot wounds to her shoulder.
She was in a 'very bad way' said David Pearce of the Foreign Office. The other wounded
woman, an American, was shot in the pelvis.
The uninjured survivors will fly home tomorrow, said
Explore Worldwide, the travel company which organised the 14-night break.
Yemen's interior ministry yesterday stuck to its version
that security forces had opened fire only after the kidnappers began killing some of their
hostages at a camp, near Mawdiyah town, 175 miles south of the capital, Sana'a.
The tour group - 12 Britons, two Americans and two
Australians - was abducted from its five-vehicle convoy on Monday. Three kidnappers were
killed and three, including the leader, were captured, said the ministry.
The rescue has come under a barrage of criticism. Baroness
Symons, the Foreign Office minister, said: 'We must get to the bottom of this, and find
out why the Yemeni authorities decided to take the action they did.' Yemeni officials have
identified one of the kidnappers who died as an Egyptian Islamic extremist known as Osama
al-Masri. They said the kidnappers belonged to Islamic Jihad, a group of 200 members in
Meanwhile, four Germans kidnapped by Yemeni tribesmen on
December 7 were yesterday freed unharmed, Yemeni officials said.