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Abu Hamza trial: murder of Scottish NHS worker

Abu Hamza denies having played a part in the death of Ruth Williamson. Picture: Contributed

Abu Hamza denies having played a part in the death of Ruth Williamson. Picture: Contributed

  • by DANIEL BATES
 

AN EYEWITNESS to the brutal murder of a Scottish NHS worker in Yemen 16 years ago has given evidence at Abu Hamza’s terrorism trial in New York.

Ruth Williamson, 34, from Edinburgh, was among a group of 16 tourists who were caught up in a hostage taking in Yemen in December 1998 that ended in a bloodbath.

She was shot dead along with two other Britons and an Australian when they were used as a human shield by the kidnappers.

US prosecutors claim that Hamza, the radical Islamic preacher who was running Finsbury Park mosque in north London at the time, provided a satellite phone and £500 for call money to aid the hostage takers.

At the trial in New York, Margaret Thompson, the sole American in the group of tourists, told in vivid detail of the chilling final moments.

She described how in a remote desert area the kidnappers used their captives as human shields and forced them to stand on mounds while firing through their legs as the Yemeni army advanced to rescue them.

Thompson told a hushed courtroom: “Another kidnapper grabbed [hostage] Mary Quin and had a gun in her back and at that point he began pushing her forward, running across the open area between the first and second [mound].”

Two other terrorists did the same with Williamson and Catherine Spence, an Australian. Thompson said: “For the three that were being pushed forward, each of them had a kidnapper behind her with a rifle in their back.

“The one that had Mary Quin was in front and the other two were further back, in a triangle formation.

“When they ran over the second [mound], they ran over the top of it and when they tripped to the floor, they looked like they had fallen. Mary hopped up right away and started running.”

Williamson did not – she was shot dead. At that point Thompson was shot in her left leg and collapsed, leaving her with a severe injury to her pelvis – to this day she walks with a limp.

The surviving hostages were put into Yemeni army helicopters and flown to hospital, she said. Thompson told the jury at Manhattan’s Federal Court: “Clare and I were on stretchers on the floor of the helicopter. At my feet were Ruth Williamson and [British hostage] Peter Rowe. Both had been killed.

“They were covered in a blanket at my feet.”

The other Briton who died was teacher Margaret Whitehouse, 52, from Hook in Hampshire. Rowe, 60, was a university lecturer from Durham.

The Australian who was killed was Andrew Thirsk, 35 – Spence was his wife and she survived.

Hamza, 56, who has stumps for hands and only one eye, is said to have offered to be the kidnappers’ go-between and bought them a satellite phone.

Prosecutors say that among the people they wanted freed in exchange for the hostages being let go was Hamza’s son-in-law, Mohammad.

Williamson’s family will no doubt want to know the truth of what happened to her, yet to hear the details of her death will re-open old wounds.

At the time of her death her uncle Donald Main said that the family was “devastated” by what he called a “brutal killing”.

He praised Williamson for regularly visiting her mother while she was in a nursing home in Perth for many years.

Main said that his niece was a “wonderful person and had a marvellous, some would say wicked, sense of humour”.

He said: “We have many happy memories of Ruth and it is those that will endure in our minds.”

Hamza has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, which also include trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, and facilitating jihad in Afghanistan.

In his evidence, he denied point blank any involvement in the kidnapping.

 
 
 

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