8 May 2014

New Zealander tells of kidnap terror

9:17 am on 8 May 2014

A top New Zealand scientist has told a New York court of her escape from Yemeni militants during an operation to free a group of Western tourists abducted in 1998.

Abu Hamza.

Abu Hamza. Photo: AFP

Mary Quin was giving evidence in the trial of the London imam Abu Hamza as-Masri who is accused of providing a satellite phone and advice to the kidnappers.

Dr Quin, a dual New Zealand-American citizen, told the court of the last moments of her capture. As her Yemeni captor lay on the sand with a gunshot wound, she hesitated for only a few seconds.

She turned, grabbed the barrel of the AK-47 rifle that moments before had been jammed against her spine and stepped on the kidnapper's head, wresting the gun away before running toward her rescuers.

"I thought, 'This is a chance to make a run for it,'" she told jurors in New York on Wednesday.

The operation to free the abducted tourists ended with the deaths of four captives during a gun battle between the kidnappers and Yemeni military personnel.

Prosecutors at the New York trial have introduced evidence that the kidnappers planned to trade the tourists for prisoners in Yemen, including Abu Hamza's son and stepson, but his lawyers have argued he intended to act as a mediator, , Reuters reports.

Dr Quin, who at the time of the kidnapping was an executive with Xerox Corp, told the court she later confronted Abu Hamza at a north London mosque for a book she wrote about her ordeal.

"He said, 'I'm surprised you would come here, very surprised,'" Quin said.

The jurors in Manhattan federal court heard excerpts from their conversation, which Quin recorded with Abu Hamza's permission.

"Islamically, it is a good thing to do," he said of the kidnapping.

He acknowledged that he had spoken with Abu Hassan, the leader of the Yemeni militants, on the day of the kidnapping. But he would not confirm that he had provided the group with the satellite phone, saying only, "Yeah, perhaps," when Dr Quin asked him.

Abu Hassan would eventually be executed for his role in the kidnapping.

Dr Quin was the final government witness in the trail and Abu Hamza was expected to testify in his own defence as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

Abu Hamza is also accused of trying to set up a militant training camp in Oregon and providing aid to al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

His lawyers have told jurors that he frequently used inflammatory language in his sermons but that he never crossed the line to criminal acts.

The imam served several years in a UK prison for inciting his followers to violence through his preaching before he was extradited to the United States. He faces life in prison if convicted in New York.