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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Flashback: Yemen kidnapping
Abu Hassan, leader of the 1998 Yemen kidnap gang
The kidnap gang leader denied links with Abu Hamza
The kidnapping charges brought against radical Muslim preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri by the US authorities stem from an incident more than five years ago in an obscure corner of the Middle East.

A group of 16 Western tourists - 12 Britons, two Americans and two Australians - were travelling in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan when they were abducted on 28 December 1998.

The tourists were travelling in five vehicles on an excursion organised by the British-based tour operators Explore Worldwide.

They were taken hostage in the town of Mudiah, about 200km (175 miles) south of the capital, Sanaa, despite having a police escort.

Initial reports suggested that they had been kidnapped by local tribesmen, who were known for seizing foreigners to press their demands for better health and social services.

But it later turned out that their captors were, in fact, Islamist militants.

Mountainous area

The hostages' ordeal was brief but bloody. Hours after the kidnap drama began, it ended in a shoot-out between the militants and Yemeni security forces trying to rescue them.

Four of the tourists - Britons Margaret Whitehouse, Ruth Williamson and Peter Rowe, as well as Australian Andrew Thirsk - were killed by their captors.

The survivors said at the time that they were being moved around in a mountainous area and being broken up into smaller groups when the rescue operation began.

The Yemeni government maintains the kidnappers started shooting the tourists before the attempt to free them began, but witnesses contradict this version of events.

Some of the surviving tourists and the kidnappers say the casualties were the result of a bungled rescue plan.

Three of the gang were sentenced to death the following year, with a fourth receiving a 20-year jail term.

In a separate trial that year in Aden, Abu Hamza's son, Mohamed Kamel, and stepson, Mohsin Ghalain, were sentenced to jail terms of three years and seven years respectively.

They were among eight Britons and two Algerians convicted of planning a terrorist bombing campaign in Yemen.

The Yemeni authorities had linked the two cases and alleged that Abu Hamza had sent the Britons to Yemen to carry out attacks.

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27 May 04 |  UK
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