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Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 14:55 GMT
Britons 'unlawfully killed' in Yemen
The tourists were seized in the southern province of Abyan The tourists were seized in the southern province of Abyan

Four Britons kidnapped in Yemen died when they were used as human shields during a bungled rescue attempt by state troops, an inquest has heard.

Ruth Williamson, 34, Dr Peter Rowe, 60, and Margaret Whitehouse, 52, and Andrew Thirsk, 35, were gunned down in the ensuing gun battle.

Coroner Dr Paul Knapman recorded a verdict of unlawful killing of all four victims.

I cry every day. It's dreadful to recall it all
Laurence Whitehouse
Relatives of the dead and injured sobbed in court as details of the horrific gun battle - which came just a day after the hostages were seized - were outlined.

The four were among a group of 16 Western tourists used as shields after being snatched by radical Muslim group the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army last December, Westminster Coroner's Court heard.

Primary school teacher Miss Whitehouse was killed by bullets fired by Yemeni troops as she stooped to aid her injured travelling companion Mr Thirsk, the inquest was told.

Miss Williamson and Mr Rowe were shot dead by one of the hostage-takers in the midst of the hilltop gun battle, said Detective Sergeant Kevin O'Shea.

'You've killed my wife'

The detective told the inquest that Mrs Whitehouse's husband Laurence saw his wife being hit by the Yemeni soldiers' bullets and then shot again by one of the kidnappers.

Mr Whitehouse leapt on one of the gunmen crying, "You've killed my wife", the court heard.

Other hostages who were injured in the gun battle were shot as they desperately tried to jump to safety from the hilltop.

One tourist was made to feign death as one of the kidnappers blasted bullets around her body.

The battle, which involved 200 government troops, also claimed the lives of three of the kidnappers.

It happened after the tourists' convoy of five vehicles was intercepted by armed hostage-takers in a four-wheel drive car, between Habban and Aden, the court heard.

Kidnapper executed

Their captors told them it was not their fault "that your country bombed Iraq".

Dr Rowe, from Durham, was a university lecturer, Miss Williamson a development and training consultant at an NHS Health Trust in Edinburgh, Mrs Whitehouse was a primary school teacher from Hook, near Basingstoke, Hants and Mr Thirsk, who was born in Guildford, Surrey, was living in Sydney, Australia.

Chief kidnapper Zein Al-Abidine al-Mihdar, who led the offshoot of the militant Islamic Jihad group, was recently executed for his part in the affair.

Al-Mihdar had also been accused of training eight young British Muslim men convicted of hatching a bomb plot as part of his holy war.

'Contacts in Britain'

The gun battle began after Yemeni dignitaries came to where the hostages were being held to discuss their release.

After the meeting a vehicle containing some kidnappers left the camp - but returned at speed after the sound of gunfire and the hostages were then placed between the kidnappers and approaching Yemeni forces.

Detective Superintendent Duncan Jarrett confirmed the terrorist group had been in contact with known terrorists in Britain during the kidnapping, but that there was insufficient evidence for a criminal action against those people.

After the hearing, Mr Whitehouse said: "I cry every day. It's dreadful to recall it all."
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See also:
17 Oct 99 |  Middle East
Yemen executes Islamic kidnapper
03 Jan 99 |  Middle East
Last Yemen hostages back in UK
01 Jan 99 |  UK
Hostages tell of 'tragic and bizarre' ordeal
29 Dec 98 |  Middle East
Four killed in hostage shoot-out
29 Dec 98 |  Middle East
Yemen: Playing the hostage card
01 Jan 99 |  UK
UK hostages fly home

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