Captive flies in and vows his Yemen days are over

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The Independent Online
JOHN BROOKE, the British hostage released by his Yemeni captors earlier this week, is clearly a practical man. Travelling back to Britain yesterday morning, his first thought was to stop off at the duty-free shop. Naturally enough, he bought champagne.

"Wonderful," beamed the oil engineer when asked what it was like to be back, after arriving at Norwich airport, a few miles from his home. "I was pretty sure I was coming home. I just was not sure when."

Mr Brooke, 46, said he had been well treated during his four-day ordeal and his captors, aged between 14 and 40, had made clear they were not connected to the men who seized 16 Western tourists last month, subsequently murdering four of them.

He said he had felt safe and had not feared for his safety as long as nothing "untoward" happened. He added that the younger kidnappers tried to explain to him in broken English and Arabic that they had taken him only to try to secure the release of a relative they claimed had been unfairly imprisoned. He said he thought they might have a case.

"I was pretty sure that these were not those type of people, having been in Yemen for so many years. What I was worried about was the people at home."

Mr Brooke, who worked in Yemen for 12 years, was seized on Saturday night from a protected compound in Marib province, 105 miles from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. He said he felt "stupid" after being seized and tried - in vain - to escape.

He was driven north for five hours and held in a mud hut for two days. Constantly moved around by his captors, he spent two nights sleeping rough. His diet was rice and boiled mutton until he was passed a package from his employers that contained clothes, toiletries and a pepperoni. "We wrapped in blankets at night and sat around a camp fire and I tried to get some sleep. It was quite cold," he said, adding: "I won't be going camping again."

Attention focused last night on how the Yemeni authorities had secured the release of Mr Brooke without using force, a tactic that badly backfired with the Western tourists when their captors forced them to be human shields.

Both the Foreign Office and Mr Brooke's employers, the Houston-based oil company Halliburton, said they had paid no ransom. But the British ambassador in Sanaa, Vic Henderson, hinted that the Yemenis might have struck some sort of deal when he said he did not think a large amount of money had been paid. "That is a matter for the Yemenis," said a Foreign Office spokesman.

Although Mr Brooke said he was in good spirits and good health - sufficiently so to go to watch his football team, Norwich City, take on West Bromwich Albion, this Saturday - he said he will not be returning to Yemen.

"If I was a single man I might go back, but I am not. It was my decision," he added, glancing at his wife, Katherine, who was at his side. Mrs Brooke said: "I've experienced so many emotions in such a short time since I heard John had been taken on Saturday. I just thought it was happening to somebody else. There were times when I wanted to scream the house down."

She added: "I suppose I had more conversations with God in the last few days than I have in a long time, and my prayers have been answered."