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World - Middle East

Hostages killed in Yemen rescue operation

graphic December 29, 1998
Web posted at: 2:00 p.m. EST (1900 GMT)

SANAA, Yemen (CNN) -- Reports out of Yemen on Tuesday indicated that some of 16 Western hostages seized by an Islamic militant group died when Yemeni troops stormed the kidnappers' mountain hideout.

The Yemen government told the U.S. State Department that one American was seriously wounded but no Americans were among the three hostages killed, according to Lee McClenny, a State Department spokesman.

Information out of Yemen was sketchy and conflicting. A spokesman for the British Home Office described the situation as "chaotic" and "confusing."

British Ambassador Victor Henderson was meeting with Yemen's interior minister to try to clear up the confusion, the British Foreign Office in London said.

Earlier, a Yemen security official told Reuters that four hostages were killed in the raid.

"The operation resulted in the death of four Britons, two women and two men," the official said. "Three hostages were injured: one American woman, a British man and an Australian man."

Three kidnappers also were reportedly killed and three others injured in the raid, the official told the news agency, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. An unknown number of kidnappers were arrested.

Key facts about Yemen

Troops stormed the hideout after receiving reports that the kidnappers had begun killing their hostages, the official said.

"They killed two," he said, "and then our forces stormed them to prevent an escalation of the situation and the killing of more hostages."

Police said a splinter group of Islamic Jihad kidnapped the tourists Monday near the southern town of Mawdiyah, about 200 kilometers (175 miles) south of the capital, Sanaa.

The group was demanding the release of its leader, Saleh Haidara al-Atwi, who was arrested two weeks ago in a government crackdown on Islamic extremists.

Yemeni officials had begun negotiations with the kidnappers for the hostages' release earlier Tuesday.

The abduction was reportedly the first in Yemen by Islamic militants. Yemeni tribesmen frequently kidnap tourists, who are usually released unharmed, to demand government concessions such as new roads, water supplies or clinics.

The frequent kidnappings have threatened Yemen's tourism industry, which generated more than $100 million for the poor Arab state last year. Tribesmen have been holding four German tourists, three of them women, since December 6, demanding money, luxury cars and government jobs.

The Islamic group that claimed responsibility for Monday's kidnapping promotes enforcement of strict Islamic law. It has about 200 members and runs a military camp in southern Yemen.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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