Hostages tell of agony

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN AND Australia are to demand an explanation from the Yemeni government after claims by survivors of a disastrous rescue attempt that its troops opened fire first, resulting in the deaths of four tourists.

Survivors of the drama told yesterday how they were used as human shields by their Islamic extremist kidnappers after government forces stormed their hide-out in al-Wadea, 175 miles south of the capital, Sanaa, on Tuesday.

Victor Henderson, the British ambassador, was due to meet the Yemeni Prime Minister and Interior Minister last night to seek an explanation for the forces' actions. The Yemenis had said earlier that they acted only after the kidnappers began killing hostages. Before the attack, Mr Henderson had insisted that no violence or rescue attempt should be made.

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, said his government would "vigorously" pursue the Yemeni government to discover what led to the two-hour gun battle in which three Britons, Ruth Williamson, 34, Margaret Whitehouse, 52, and Peter Rowe, 60, and Australian Andrew Thirsk, 35, died.

Tension in the region eased slightly yesterday with the release of four Germans who had been held hostage since 6 December.