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Attacker Disguised Gun as a Baby

Times Staff Writer

A missionary group that runs a Yemen hospital where three Americans were killed and a fourth was wounded said the gunman disguised his weapon by swaddling it like a baby before he opened fire Monday in an attack that is likely to further destabilize the troubled Arab country.

A suspect arrested immediately after the shooting in the southern city of Jibla allegedly told Yemeni officials that he was a devout Muslim and that he shot the hospital workers to “cleanse his religion and get closer to God.”

Yemeni officials said the gunman had ties to extremists, but U.S. officials stopped short of calling it a terrorist attack.

“We don’t know if it’s an anti-American attack, an anti-Christian attack or an anti-foreigner attack,” an administration official said. “It’s just too soon to say.”

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The four victims were among about a dozen Southern Baptist missionaries who staff the 80-bed hospital in Jibla, more than 100 miles south of Sana, the capital.

The 35-year-old hospital had drawn controversy in the region, where some Muslims objected to what they described as Christian proselytizing. The International Mission Board, the missionary branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, had been planning to turn over administration of the hospital to a Muslim group in the coming year in response.

“We’re grateful God spared the lives of others and pray that his spirit will meet the needs of everyone touched by this crisis,” said Larry Cox, spokesman for the board.

According to accounts by the missionary group, the gunman passed through security by wrapping his weapon in a blanket and carrying it beneath his coat as if it were a child as he entered the hospital, pretending to seek medical care. The gunman then burst into a room where three of the hospital’s senior staff members were meeting and opened fire at close range. After leaving the room, he shot and seriously wounded a fourth American missionary who was working in the pharmacy.

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The dead were identified as Martha Myers, 57, a physician from Montgomery Ala.; William Koehn, 60, a hospital administrator from Arlington, Texas; and Kathleen Gariety, 53, a purchasing agent from Wauwatosa, Wis.

The wounded man is pharmacist Donald Caswell, 49, of Levelland, Texas. He was shot in the stomach and underwent surgery at the hospital. He was expected to make a full recovery.

All of the victims had worked in the hospital for years; Myers had served since 1977 and Koehn since 1974.

The gunman surrendered to Yemeni hospital guards, who turned him over to authorities.

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“We strongly condemn and deplore the murder of three American citizens who were providing humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who spoke near Crawford, Texas, where President Bush is spending an extended New Year’s holiday at his ranch. “This underscores the world we’re living in these days, the dangerous world we live in these days.... We take this very seriously.”

Yemeni authorities identified the gunman as 30-year-old Abed Abdul Razak Kamel, and gave conflicting accounts of his alleged ties to extremists.

A Yemeni Interior Ministry official told Associated Press that Kamel claimed to have planned the attack in concert with Ali Jarallah, a suspected assassin arrested Saturday in the slaying that day of a leader of Yemen’s Socialist Party. A report by Reuters quoted officials who said Kamel told them he was part of a group called Islamic Jihad, apparently unconnected to the Palestinian group of the same name.

U.S. officials said they had no confirmation of either account and said it was possible he acted independently or on behalf of a tribal group.

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“There’s just no answer to what his motivation was,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said. “It could be a lot of things. Whether it was a lone operator or done for religious reasons, we just don’t know yet. There’s no clear terrorist connection.”

Yemen is a poor, tribal Arab country -- the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula -- sandwiched between Saudi Arabia to the north and the Gulf of Aden to the south. The central government has no authority in large swaths of the desert country, where tribes rule much as they did in ancient times.

For years the poor security situation strained relations with the United States, especially when American citizens were held hostage by various tribes. However, relations have improved since the Sept. 11 attacks, when the government declared its full support for the United States’ war on terrorism.

Nonetheless, in recent years, many impoverished Yemenis have joined up with terrorist organizations, including Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. Two recent attacks on Western vessels -- a bomb attack on a French tanker in October and the bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in October 2000 -- have been blamed on militants linked to Bin Laden’s group.

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Two incidents in recent months threatened the rapprochement between the U.S. and Yemen. In early November, a U.S. Predator drone fired on a vehicle in the Yemeni desert, killing six men believed to be Al Qaeda figures, one of them a senior member. The Yemeni government said for the first time Monday that it had asked for the attack, a request that had been widely assumed.

And this month, North Korean-made Scud missiles were intercepted off the coast of Yemen. The Yemeni government said the shipment was legal, and the U.S. released the vessel, allowing delivery of the missiles to Yemen’s army.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh denounced Monday’s attack and pledged new efforts to work with the United States.

“We condemn this heinous act ... which will strengthen our united stand against terrorism,” Saleh said in a message to Bush.

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Christian missionaries walk a delicate line in Muslim countries, most of which outlaw any form of proselytizing.

In Yemen, the Southern Baptists had run the hospital since 1966 with the permission and support of the Yemeni government.

Wendy Norvelle, a spokeswoman for the International Mission Board, said hospital workers were sensitive to local feelings about proselytizing but were also open about the religious motivations for their work.

“We’re believers of Jesus Christ. All of us are commanded to share that with others as we go about our work,” Norvelle said. The hospital workers “would be there in Christ’s name and would share their medical care in Christ’s name.”

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All the same, religious discussions were likely to be private, she said.

“The way we feel it is most effective is in one-on-one conversation with people as they come in for medial care,” Norvelle said.

The mission board is “grieved” by the attack, said its president, Jerry Rankin, but it has no plans to withdraw from the country.

“Our personnel, as Americans and Christians, are well aware of the risk of living and serving in a place like Yemen,” he said in a statement.

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“Yet their love for the Yemeni people and obedience to the conviction of God’s leadership has been expressed in a willingness to take that risk and give of their lives.”

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Times staff writers Greg Miller in Washington and James Gerstenzang in Crawford, Texas, and Times wire services contributed to this report.


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