By Ruth Holmes
PARIS, Jan 18, 2013 (AFP)
A French national says he hid under his bed for 40 hours during the hostage-taking before being rescued by soldiers during an assault that involved heavy exchanges of gunfire.
Alexandre Berceaux, an employee of CIS Catering at the desert gas complex who was evacuated to another nearby site, also told Europe 1 radio that the initial attack on the site was a surprise as the base was heavily guarded.
He said “there were intervals of heavy gunfire” when Algerian forces stormed the base Thursday, adding: “There are terrorists who are dead, expatriates, locals”.
“I heard an enormous amount of gunfire. The alarm telling us to stay where we were was going off. I didn’t know if it was a drill or if it was real.”
1025 GMT: As pressure mounts on Algeria over its handling of the situation, new details have emerged about the Algerian rescue operation — including reports that hostages had explosives strapped to them.
Irish foreign minister Eamon Gilmore says some of the hostages came under fire as Algerian authorities intervened when the al Qaeda-linked kidnappers attempted to move their captives. He was speaking after 36-year-old father of two, Stephen McFaul, from Belfast in Northern Ireland escaped from the facility.
“I have been told at the stage where they were being transported explosives were strapped to them,? Gilmore told CNN after speaking to McFaul’s wife Angela by phone.
“The information that I have is that there were five vehicles involved; four of those vehicles were hit. The vehicle in which Stephen McFaul was not hit and he managed to get away, but as I said it?s still at a very early stage and we?re still assembling the information.”
1013 GMT: DEATH TOLL GIVEN BY HOSTAGE-TAKERS ‘FANTASY’: SECURITY SOURCE.
1008 GMT: Some Islamist gunmen are still holed up at the remote Algerian gas field, a security source says.
“There is still a group holed up” at the In Amenas gas production complex in the southeast desert, the source tells AFP, adding that it was “difficult to discuss an ongoing operation.”
1000: GMT: SOME ALGERIA HOSTAGE-TAKERS ‘STILL HOLED UP’ IN GAS COMPLEX: SECURITY SOURCE.
0956 GMT: Eight Norwegians are still unaccounted for in the siege at the BP-operated facility, while one appears to have escaped, Norway’s Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide says.
“At this moment we have eight hostages, eight people who are unaccounted for in the situation,” Eide told BBC radio.
“This morning we got news that the ninth person is actually free and is at a local hospital in In Amenas.”
Four other Norwegian nationals had “got out at an early stage”, he added.
0949 GMT: Some 34 Filipinos working at the gas field have been flown out of the country, a Philippine government spokesman says.
Another Filipino worker escaped on his own along with a Japanese national, Foreign Undersecretary Raul Hernandez said. Of those evacuated and flown to London on Thursday, one had suffered a gunshot wound, he added, declining to confirm reports that at least two Filipinos were among those killed in the Algerian rescue operation.
“The Algerians admitted that there were some deaths and injuries on the side of the hostages following the operation undertaken by the Algerian military forces but no details were released,” Hernandez said.
0941 GMT: Several world leaders made changes to their schedules today, reflecting their growing concern about the hostages’ fate. Prime Minister David Cameron has cancelled a key speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU in the Netherlands while Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cut short a visit to Indonesia.
Japanese plant builder JGC has confirmed the safety of three of its Japanese staff and one Filipino employee, but the whereabouts of 74 other staff, 14 of them Japanese, remain unknown.
0934 GMT: The Islamist kidnappers say 34 captives have died in the assault, but this is impossible to confirm. So far only the British government has announced a casualty, though it is feared that the toll could be considerably higher.
The militants told Mauritanian news agency ANI they would “kill all the hostages if the Algerian forces succeed in entering the complex”.
0924 GMT: Algeria is coming under mounting international criticism over the crisis as dozens of foreign hostages remain unaccounted for, with many feared dead, despite an Algerian military rescue bid.
Japan’s foreign ministry has today summoned the Algerian ambassador, demanding answers over the rescue operation. The plant employs workers from Japan, Britain, France, Italy, Norway and the United States.
Japanese senior vice foreign minister Shunichi Suzuki told ambassador Sid Ali Ketrandji that Japan was disturbed by the way the ground and air assault had been carried out, a foreign ministry statement said.
“From the view point of protecting the lives of the hostages, Japan is deeply worried that the government of Algeria conducted the military operation to rescue hostages,” Suzuki told Ketrandji, according to the statement.
0918 GMT: While only one British person has been confirmed dead, media reports said as many as 20 Britons may be unaccounted for at the BP-operated In Amenas plant.
One man from Northern Ireland meanwhile managed to escape from the facility and is expected to be returning home to Belfast Friday.
0911 GMT: Britain’s Foreign Office says the “terrorist incident” in Algeria is ongoing and confirmed that one Britain had been killed.
Prime Minister David Cameron will later hold a meeting of Britain’s COBRA emergency committee after warning of the likelihood of more bad news to come.
“The terrorist incident in Algeria remains ongoing,” said a Foreign Office spokeswoman. “As the prime minister and foreign secretary have said, to the best of our knowledge on the information given to us by the Algerian government one British national has sadly been killed.
“We are not in a position to give further information at this time. But the prime minister has advised we should be prepared for bad news.”
WELCOME TO AFP’S LIVE REPORT on the Algeria hostage crisis as it enters its third day. Western governments have voiced alarm over the fate of dozens of foreigners seized by Islamists at the In Amenas gas plant in the Algerian desert after several hostages were killed in a dramatic rescue operation.
Here are some of the latest key developments in what Britain described early Friday as an ongoing “terrorist incident”.
— An Algerian military operation aimed at freeing the hostages has left “several people” killed or wounded but freed a “large number” of hostages, an Algerian minister said.
— Special forces have taken control of a residential compound at the complex wherehundreds of hostages are being held after Islamist militants took control of the gas plant on Wednesday.
— Algerian soldiers continue to surround the site’s main gas facility which they have so far failed to secure in an air and ground assault. Some 600 local workers were however freed Thursday, including two from Britain, one from France and one from Pakistan.