4 Western Tourists Killed in Yemen
Dec. 30, 1998
SAN`A, Yemen (AP) _ Troops surrounded a band of Islamic extremists holding 16 Western tourists hostage in Yemen on Tuesday and opened fire, bringing a bloody end to the kidnapping that left four Westerners dead and two others, including an American woman, injured.
The remaining 10 hostages were freed unharmed.
Yemen's Interior Ministry said the kidnappers had killed three of the captives and that a fourth died later in hospital.
It was not immediately clear if the victims were slain before or during the fighting between extremists and some 200 Yemen security forces. U.S. State Department spokesman Lee McClenny said that according to the Yemen government, troops stormed the hideout only after the kidnappers began killing the hostages.
The 16 tourists _ 12 Britons, two Americans and two Australians _ were kidnapped Monday near the southern town of Mawdiyah, about 175 miles south of the capital, San`a.
The nationalities of the dead were unclear. The Interior Ministry said all those killed were British, but the United States and Britain both said an Australian was among the dead. The other tourists injured in the clash was a British woman. Names of the tourists were unavailable.
Three of the kidnappers, including an Egyptian, were killed, the Interior Ministry said. It was not immediately known how many were involved in the kidnapping and if all had been apprehended.
The kidnapping began Monday when the tourists' convoy of five vehicles was ambushed by men who opened fire on their police escorts. The kidnappers threatened to kill the tourists if the police did not back off, Yemeni security officials said.
Tribesmen in unruly Yemen have frequently kidnapped tourists to pressure the government into providing them with new roads, water or clinics. But the hostages generally have been treated as guests and released unharmed.
Four Germans are being held by a tribe in northeast Yemen. The kidnappers are demanding more schools, hospitals and telephone lines in their area.
The latest incident marked the first time an abduction was carried out by Islamic extremists. Security officials said the kidnappers belong to Islamic Jihad, many of whose leaders fought Russian troops in Afghanistan. The group is believed to have about 200 members.
The Interior Ministry said members of the ``extremist terrorist gang'' killed three of the captives _ two men and a woman.
``They proceeded in killing the captives after refusing any attempts at negotiations, which led security forces to storm the area to prevent further bloodshed and ensure the safe release of the rest of the hostages,'' the statement said.
The bodies of the dead and injured tourists were ferried by government helicopter to a hospital in the southern port city of Aden, security officials said. The other tourists were escorted by troops to a hotel in Aden.
After the shootout, security forces detained scores of suspected Islamic extremists, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The kidnappers had demanded the release of their leader, Saleh Haidara al-Atwi, who was detained two weeks ago as part of a government crackdown on Islamic vigilantes who had been enforcing strict Islamic rules in southern Yemen, security officials said.
Islamic Jihad members reportedly were flogging women who did not observe the Islamic dress code and men for selling and drinking alcohol, which is forbidden in Islam.
The kidnappers also wanted the release of another leader, the officials said. They did not identify him.
The group ran a military camp in southern Yemen, security officials said.
Yemen was once a haven for Islamic militant fugitives from other countries, but the government has expelled many of them.
Before the shootout, Yemeni officials tried to negotiate with the kidnappers while security forces encircled the area.
Ahmad Ali Mohsen, governor of Abyan province, where the kidnapping took place, was leading the talks with leaders of the Al-Fadl tribe, to which the kidnappers belong, an official at the governor's office said.
A London-based Islamic human rights group said Tuesday that it had contacted the kidnappers the night before and received assurances that they would not harm the hostages.
``They promised not to harm the hostages,'' said a spokesman for the Islamic Observation Center. ``We hold the Yemeni government responsible for the deaths. The way the authorities handled the situation was barbaric and irresponsible.''