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Yemen Hostages Arrive in Britain

January 1, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ Three Britons who arrived home Friday night after surviving a bloody shootout between Yemeni troops and their captors said they do not know who started the shooting in a rescue attempt that left four hostages dead.

``None of us have any idea who fired first,″ said Brian Smith, who along with two other former hostages, spoke with reporters at London’s Gatwick Airport. ``This is a question that has been fired at us time and time again and the simple answer is we do not know.″

Yemeni officials have insisted the kidnappers began executing their 16 hostages Tuesday, prompting troops to open fire. But some of the hostages have said the soldiers attacked first, then the kidnappers tried to use their captives as human shields before killing them.

Three of the kidnappers were also killed in the rescue operation.

The three arrived in London with six other hostages _ five British and one Australian _ flying from Yemen to Britain via Paris with a British tour leader who escaped when the abduction took place Monday.

Smith, and former hostages David Holmes and Sue Mattocks said they had not been pressured to change their stories to clear the Yemeni authorities of blame, as has been reported.

However, when asked whether any of the other hostages had been asked to change their stories, the three remained silent, and refused to answer when the question was posed a second time.

The three paid tribute to their companions who died and gave details of their ordeal, including lighter moments with the kidnappers before the violent conclusion to the kidnapping.

``I think all of us emerged with great composure, dignity and courage. There was no sign of panic amongst any of us whatsoever,″ Smith said. ``That was phenomenal.″

The bodies of the three Britons and an Australian killed in the rescue operation remained in Yemen. The dead are Ruth Williamson, 34, Peter Rowe, 60, and Margaret Whitehouse, 52, of Britain, and Andrew Thirsk, 35, of Sydney, Australia.

Three other survivors _ Mary Quin of Rochester, N.Y., Claire Marston of Britain and an unidentified American woman _ also remained in Yemen. Quin was expected to fly out overnight Friday.

Plans were being made to fly Marston, who was shot in the shoulder during the rescue operation, and the American, who was shot in the hip, to London on Sunday, Dr. Charles Rosenfarb of the U.S. Embassy said.

Rosenfarb said the dead hostages would possibly be flown to Britain Sunday.

To clear up questions over how the hostages were killed during the gunbattle between Yemeni troops and the kidnappers, the British Foreign Office met for the second time with the Yemeni ambassador in London.

``The British government is seriously concerned about some of the aspects of the Yemen government’s handling of the kidnap incident and we are very keen to establish the facts of what happened,″ a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity.

Former hostage Mattocks said she had no quarrel with the Yemeni authorities.

``I personally feel that an operation like this is never going to be tidy,″ she said. ``I was concerned over the last couple of days about the sort of anti-Yemeni feeling. I don’t feel that. I think that Yemen is a sovereign country and they made their decision.″

When the freed hostages left Yemen, a delegation of Yemeni officials bade them farewell. Young girls in national costume presented them with flowers and Yemeni trade unionists held up a banner saying: ``We are sorry. This is not like Yemen. Yemen is a friendly country.″

The killings have shocked Yemen, known for its hospitality even by kidnappers. In recent years, tribesmen seeking better roads or schools for their impoverished provinces have kidnapped scores of tourists but usually released them unharmed after treating them as guests. Until Tuesday, no hostage had been killed.

U.S. security experts and British detectives from Scotland Yard arrived in Yemen late Friday to investigate the deaths, a Yemeni security official said.

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