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Attack in Yemen News Conference

Aired December 30, 2002 - 10:01   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we want to take you to a press conference on the attack on the American doctors in Yemen. This is by a Baptist group, the Southern Baptists, in Richmond, Virginia.

DR. JERRY RANKIN, PRES. INTL. MISSION BOARD: We were grieved to hear that a lone gunman walked into a meeting of staff at 8:15 this morning Yemen time and killed surgeon Martha Myers who had served the hospital 25 years, administrator Bill Koehn, who had served 28 years, and Cathy Gariety, a supply manager who had served 10 years. Don Caswell, a pharmacist who was wounded, is recovering from surgery at this time.

Our personnel as Americans and Christians are well aware of the risk of living and serving in a place like Yemen, yet their love for the Yemeni people and obedience to the conviction of God's leadership expressed in a willingness to take that risk and give of their lives. We were moved to hear of crowds of local people lining the road to the hospital in respect for those who had served them so faithfully.

Our hearts go out in sympathy to the families, colleagues and local friends who are grieving this tragic loss.

I'm joined by Dr. Larry Cox, our vice president of public relations. We'll be happy to answer any questions you might have for a few minutes.

QUESTION: What is the future of the hospital?

RANKIN: We anticipate the hospital continuing. Our people are committing to continue ministering there. We have been negotiating with an organization to take responsibility for the hospital, but we're committed to continuing whatever ministry we can in the country.

Yes, there was security. From the account that we heard, the man brought in a rifle under his coat as if he were cradling a baby, bringing him into the clinic that morning. He was immediately apprehended after the shooting by the security personnel there.

Bill Koehn's wife, Marty, is there. Kathy Gariety is single. And Martha Myers is single.

Actually, being in a country like Yemen, our personnel over the years have been prohibited from presenting an overt Christian witness. We would not make any presumption of motive or what was behind that. They've been very respectful of the authorities and the policies in which we serve the people of Yemen.

Well, obviously, the needs of the people continue, and the reason our personnel are there is because of those needs and our care and concern for the people, so certainly, we will continue to explore the options of how we might continue the ministry to which God has called us there.

Well, of course, there's a limit to what you can do in security. I think all of our personnel, not just in places like Yemen, but wherever they serve throughout the world recognize that there's some risk involved, and there's a limit to what they can do to protect themselves from something like this. Certainly, we do take security precautions.

Our personnel are trained to be sensitive to those issues, and this will just simply heighten their awareness and need for security wherever they're serving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we need for you to repeat the question because it's not picked up by the microphone.

QUESTION: OK. The question is, can you describe security at the hospital?

DR. LARRY COX: Yes, security actually is responsibility of the Yemeni government. They have security troops there and have for many years stationed there. It's a compound setting with a fence around it, and they are responsible for security.

At this point, I'm not exactly sure and not prepared to tell you how many. We do have several personnel there.

Question is, have the Yemeni authorities said anything to us, or do we know more about -- than you. The answer is we don't know anything more than you about that.

RANKIN: The question is, do we operate other hospitals in other countries, and particularly in the Middle East? We would have to equivocate some on the issue of do we operate the hospital. At one time, this is somewhat dated, we were affiliated with about 56, what we would call, mission hospitals around the world. Many of them have been nationalized. We continue to provide some staff and personnel, occasional funding for capital needs at some of these, but we would not say that we operate these hospitals. So I would really not know how many of that number we would actually be operating. It's dependent on our presence and personal.

Well, when you say -- when we say, the question is how many personnel do we have in Muslim countries? When we say that we're in 184 countries around the world, obviously, we do have a significant number of personnel in many Muslim countries.

QUESTION: What would it take, doctor, to end your mission in Yemen? (INAUDIBLE)

RANKIN: We would not choose to end our ministry and service because of risk and danger to our personnel. If we would, we would probably be ending our ministry in many of the countries throughout the world. The question is, what would it take our cause to cause us to close down or end our ministry in Yemen? We work there to provide services to the people of Yemen. Obviously, with permission and in cooperation with the Yemeni government, they would have the authority to close down our presence and our work. I would be concerned and feel that as long as we're providing a need and working with respect for them and their policies that they would continue to allow us to serve there, and we're committed to that.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) any threats on any mission boards properties or personnel in the past, past year and a half, since 9/11?

RANKIN: The question is, have there been any other threats on our personnel or properties, particularly since September 11th in 2001. The answer to that would be, yes. Most definitely there have been threats. They are taken seriously, but our people are very culturally adapted and relate to local people at a grassroots level and security officials, police, and can evaluate these better than we can from a centralized location here, but it just goes not only with being a Christian missionary now, but being an American that, yes, we would be subjected to threats in many places throughout the world.

RANKIN: I'm not aware of any specific threats that would raise alarm to the hospital in Yemen other than just the nature of the country itself.

COX: There, during heightened times of security, there have been security alerts, where we have increased security awareness, and that's been going on for 35 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thank you for joining us this morning. There are copies of our current release on this in the folders at the back of the room, along with written copies...

LIN: All right. We were just listening to the Southern Baptist organization out of Richmond, Virginia, which has supported the mission of the Baptist hospital where the attack took place outside of San'a in Yemen in a town called Jibla, in a Baptist hospital where an attack took place where a gunman broke into the hospital and killed three hospital workers there. You see their pictures.

Dr. Martha Myers, who was an obstetrician at the hospital, Kathy Gariety, the business manager, and William Koehn who was the hospital administrator who had planned on retiring just next year, after so many years of service there. But the Southern Baptists do plan on keeping the hospital open, keeping their ministry active. They're saying they're not going to bow to terrorism and that it is the Yemeni government which is responsible for security at the hospital, and it was security at the hospital that did nab the gunman, a 35-year-old man, after the shootings occurred.

Right now, we want to get more on the investigation, and on the jeopardy that Americans do find themselves now in overseas. We're going to be talking with a journalist, Faris Al-Sanabani. He is with the "Yemen Observer." Faris, can you hear me? This is Carol Lin at the CNN Center.

FARIS AL-SANABANI, "YEMEN OBSERVER": I can hear you. Go ahead.

LIN: All right. What do you make of what the Southern Baptists are saying? They want to continue their mission. Is it safe to do so now?

AL-SANABANI: To be very frank with you, I have never seen the Yemenis so angry at anything. There is public anger by the Yemeni citizens, the Yemeni people against this incidence. They look at it as a human (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's above politics, it is about policies, so I feel they'll be welcome to work and come here.

LIN: Why is it that you think that the hospital was targeted?

AL-SANABANI: I think the heightened security on American citizens and internationals throughout the country, I think there was a gap there, and nobody maybe imagined that a doctor will be hit. It is unhuman, it is unacceptable, and above all, like I said. As we are here -- the government sources informed us that he hid his gun under his armpit, and walked in as a patient, and was able to get in the hospital. Otherwise, it's secure in the premises.

LIN: Do you know any more about the 35-year-old man, was he working with others? Is he associated with al Qaeda?

AL-SANABANI: Yes, he was a jobless -- from what I understand. He has a beard and shaved it one day ahead, and he drove from a city close to San'a all the way to Jibla where he committed his crime.

We understand, also, that he is in close contact with another criminal who assassinated the secretary-general of the Socialist Party two days ago. His name is Ali Ahmed Jarala (ph), and this man was a mosque preacher who preached hate, and he was jailed for one year by the government for preaching hate, and supposedly, Abed, the killer of the American citizens, was one of his students and followers.

LIN: So does this suggest a wider plot against Western targets, specifically Americans?

AL-SANABANI: I think it's with the heated foreign policies in the Middle East and with the Iraq -- the preparation for the war in Iraq, and the killing of Palestinians. It's creating a fuss and a hate for policies. But, also, the government crack-down on al Qaeda and the close cooperation with the U.S. have angered a number of those who are hit and jailed and prosecuted because of this cooperation.

LIN: So how organized, how much support do you think the gunman and his mentor have? How big an organization are they?

AL-SANABANI: I think it's a small one, from what I understand, from what the government sources have informed us. It is only these two in coordination. I definitely think that today's incident has created anger by the public against those people who are preaching extremism and they have sacrificed their life to provide life for others.

LIN: So Faris, do you think that the Yemeni government is doing enough here? Can they -- do they have the resources and can they be trusted to do everything they can to protect foreigners, specifically Westerners, in this case, if Westerners are being specifically targeted?

AL-SANABANI: As you understand, Yemen is a very poor country. It is one of the poorest countries in the gulf, and as it is, they have shifted most of their government budget towards security. They're improving security, working closely with the U.S., but also we have to understand there is a lot of challenges, a high illiteracy rate in Yemen, there is poverty, there is unemployment, and all the military cooperation and the cooperation against terrorism is going top peak, but along with that, economical developments has go (ph) hand in hand with security, and if the economical development is not there, I can see challenges for the government ahead.

LIN: All right. Clearly challenges also for Americans working overseas now. Once again, the Southern Baptists say that that hospital, the Baptist hospital, will remain open to minister to the dozens, if not hundreds of Yemenis who need medical care there. Our thanks to Faris Al-Sanabani from the "Yemen Observer" for giving us more perspective from the ground level there.


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