American tells harrowing story at NY terror trial
NEW YORK (AP) — A Texas woman shot in the leg during a 1998 terrorist attack on tourists in Yemen told her harrowing story to a jury at the trial of an Egyptian cleric Tuesday, saying she didn’t know whether she was about to be freed or killed when a kidnapper announced: “It’s goodbye to you all!”
Margaret Thompson, walking with a limp, took the witness stand at the trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa as the government drew close to finishing its presentation of evidence. Prosecutors are expected to rest Wednesday after the testimony of a second one-time American hostage, Mary Quin.
Thompson described how her vacation in late December 1998 became a nightmare when vehicles carrying Thompson and 15 other tourists were overrun by gun-toting Muslim extremists.
She said a kidnapper told the hostages at one point: “It’s goodbye to you all!”
Asked by a prosecutor what she thought he meant, she said: “I hoped it meant that they were getting ready to release us, but I feared it meant that they thought we were going to die.”
Thompson, a retired information specialist for petroleum companies who worked at the time in London, said the hostage takers held them overnight before they were marched to an area with three parallel sand berms as gunfire, first distant, got closer.
She said the hostage takers seemed to be shooting between the legs of the hostages at one point and, at another, had pushed a woman to the ground before firing around her head without hitting her. Authorities have said the terrorists used hostages as shields in the attack.
Thompson said the kidnappers seemed to be going down the row of hostages, demanding to know who was American, when the drama reached a crescendo, with gunfire raging around them until she was struck in the left leg by a bullet.
“I’ve been shot!” she recalled saying as a fellow hostage, a woman, handed her a scarf and told her to lie still.
“Very quickly after that the Yemen soldiers appeared from the other side of the berm,” she said. “What I remember was a whole line of them. I saw their military berets come up over the top of the berm.”
Thompson said she was taken to a hospital in Aden, Yemen, for several days before she was transferred to London. She recalled one journey in a helicopter in which two of the four hostages who were killed by the hostage takers were covered in a blanket at her feet.
Mustafa is charged with conspiring to support terrorists by supplying a satellite phone to the Yemen hostage takers and by trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon. He has pleaded not guilty.
He is expected to testify Wednesday afternoon.