An open door to the Arab world


Country briefing






Special topics


Arts and culture




Articles about Yemen


Yemen hostage murders

Gun battle survivors tell how captors took their revenge

by Rory Carroll and Brian Whitaker 

Originally published in The Guardian, 31 December, 1998

IT WAS a hail of bullets from attacking Yemeni government troops that triggered off the execution of the tourists by their kidnappers.

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 US)

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 British ambassador.

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.


In the Yemen section




View statistics


Last revised on 05 August, 2015