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Yemen Hostages’ Rescue Account, Official Story Differ

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The hostages said they were being led up to a mountain hide-out by their kidnappers when shots first rang out: Yemeni soldiers sent to rescue the 16 Westerners had opened fire.

In response, the foreign tourists were forced to stand with their hands in the air to shield the gunmen. When the hostages staggered back, two were shot dead by their captors and the others cowered behind an embankment, two former hostages said Wednesday.

The barrage Tuesday in southern Yemen triggered a two-hour gun battle, they said. When it was over, four hostages were dead and two others were wounded, including an American woman.

The account appeared to contradict a Yemeni government statement that said security forces opened fire “after the kidnappers had already started killing the hostages.”

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The soldiers were trying to “prevent further killings and to save the lives of the hostages,” the government statement said.

But Eric Firkins and Brian Smith had a different tale to tell.

Firkins, 55, a chemistry professor from Croydon, England, said the abductors, armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers, were leading the hostages into the mountains to a hide-out. “Then we heard the gunfire,” he said.

“The army approached us, and the nearer they got, the more tense the situation in our group became,” said Smith, 52, a postal worker from Peterborough, England.

He said the shooting then started in earnest, with bullets whizzing over their heads and shells crashing into the surrounding mountains or exploding in the air.

He and Firkins were interviewed at a hotel in the southern port of Aden, a three-hour drive from Mawdiyah, where the hostages were held after being seized Monday.


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