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Friday, May 28, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Alaskan survived brush with terrorists

By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter

Mary Quin in January 1999, days after her desert ordeal.
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An Alaska woman knows firsthand some of the key events in the indictments yesterday of Abu Hamza al-Masri.

Mary Quin, 50, was one of 16 tourists taken hostage in Yemen by terrorists federal agents say were aided by the London cleric. Quin, an Anchorage businesswoman, was riding in a caravan in the Yemeni desert, heading to Aden, when the group was ambushed by gunmen on Dec. 28, 1998.

They forced one of the five four-wheel-drive vehicles off the road, and men with AK-47s jumped out of the brush. For the next day, she and the other hostages were moved several times until Yemini troops spotted them.

The kidnappers split up the group, sending five hostages ahead with some captors, while Quin and 10 others were kept behind to act as human shields between attacking Yemeni government troops and the eight or so kidnappers.

Quin said the gunbattle was ferocious, but she remained calm, even with bullets zinging overhead.

Quin said a leader of the group put an assault rifle into her back and, hiding behind her, walked her toward the Yemeni troops.

Suddenly, she said she no longer felt the rifle barrel in her spine. She turned to find her captor sprawled on the ground, groaning, hit by gunfire.

She wanted to run, but the man struggled to get up, she said. She grabbed his rifle so he couldn't shoot her as she escaped.

But he would not let go, Quin said. She found herself in a grim tug of war with a terrorist in the middle of a battlefield. She kicked him the face, but he held on. She stepped on his head for leverage, wrenched the rifle free and ran to safety, Quin said.

In the end, four hostages died in the firefight and two were seriously wounded.

The FBI later determined the kidnappers were affiliated with the Islamic Army of Aden. Federal agents believe the terrorists took the 16 hostages to trade for eight radical Muslims arrested in Britain, including the son and son-in-law of Abu Hamza al-Masri.
Two years ago, Quin visited the Finsbury Park mosque in London to see Abu Hamza, the imam. After a few niceties, she told him she was one of the 16 hostages in Yemen.

"He leaned back in his chair," she said. "Then he said, 'I am very surprised that you would come and see me.' "

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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