A Texas woman taken hostage in a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen that prosecutors say was aided by British Imam Abu Hamza al Masri testified at his federal court in Manhattan trial Tuesday that she was used as a human shield when Yemeni troops mounted a rescue.
Margaret Thompson, who was one of only two Americans in the ill-fated British tour group that was snatched, recalled the chilling words of one of her abductors as gunfire of the approaching troops got near and he ordered the hostages into a picket line.
"He said, 'It's goodbye to you all,' " said Thompson, an information technology officer with Conoco at the time who has since retired. "I hoped it meant they were getting ready to release us, but I feared it meant we were all about to die."
Thompson's chilling testimony did not directly implicate Abu Hamza, but prosecutors say he provided the kidnappers with a satellite phone and advised them, while the defense says he was trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution. Four hostages died in the assault.
Abu Hamza, 56, also known as Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, the former head of London's radical Finsbury Park mosque, is also charged with conspiring to create a jihad training camp in Bly, Oregon, and aiding al-Qaida in Afghanistan by sending acolytes there.
The trial started in mid-April. On Wednesday, the government is expected to end its case by calling another Yemen hostage, Mary Quin, who later confronted and taped Abu Hamza in London. Defense lawyers say Abu Hamza will take the stand in the afternoon.
Thompson said she toured Yemen with a group of 20 to use up vacation time at the end of 1998. After several days traveling through the desert and along the coast, she said, their caravan was hijacked on Dec. 28 by a swarm of pickup trucks with tripod-mounted machine guns and men with rifles and grenades.
At their hideout, she said, the kidnappers said they were trying to get associates freed from prison. Thompson said the hostages were not abused, but the kidnappers were anxious to find out which ones were Americans.
The next morning, when Yemeni forces began the assault, the hostages were ordered to stand in a line on a raised berm with their hands in the air facing the troops.
"A number of the kidnappers were laying on the ground against the berm behind us, shooting their guns between our legs," she said. "I could hear the bullets whizzing past."
Thompson, who did not give her current age, said she was eventually felled by a bullet to the leg that crushed her femur. None of the four killed in the crossfire were Americans.