x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Algeria siege survivors recall brutal ordeal

Picture of savagery of attack emerges, with hostages strapped to explosives and gunned down.

LONDON // As they prowled the Ain Amenas gas complex for hostages, the gunmen who attacked the Algerian site discovered a brutal but effective tactic to persuade foreign workers to come out of hiding.

They threatened a British man into calling out to his colleagues, according to an Algerian worker, Chabene, who heard the exchange before he escaped.

He said they ordered the man to yell, "'They're not going to kill you. They're looking for the Americans'. A few minutes later they blew him away."

After the hostage crisis was finally brought to a bloody end on Saturday by the Algerian military, with the deaths of at least 25 foreigners and Algerians, a picture has begun to emerge of the horror and savagery of the attack.

In the past few days, survivors have told how they were strapped to explosives, and the apparent leader of the militants, Abdul Rahman Al Nigeri, confirmed that he was ready at any time to blow up the hostages.

"By Allah, we will blow them up if the Algerian army gets close to us," he warned in a recording broadcast on Saturday.

One Briton and one Algerian were killed in the first attack by gunmen on a bus on Wednesday morning, before the militants stormed the complex, but witnesses said that nine Japanese workers also died in the first frantic hours, three of whom were shot trying to escape.

"A terrorist shouted 'open the door' with a strong North American accent, and opened fire. Two other Japanese died then and we found four other Japanese bodies" inside the compound, said Riad, who worked for the Japanese engineering firm JGC..

Iba El Haza, an Algerian driver at the BP gas plant, said that the gunmen were armed with AK-47s, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and were interested only in keeping western hostages.

"The terrorists said: 'You have nothing to do with this, you are Algerians and Muslims. We won't keep you, we only want the foreigners'," said the man, who escaped during a rescue attempt by Algerian special forces on Thursday.

Another Algerian survivor told Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper how the gunmen seemed to know their way around the site and the names of the people responsible for certain areas, as well as where keys were kept.

"The terrorists went to the alarm station, switched off the alarms, and forced the deputy manager to show them where the expats were," he said. "They rounded up the expats, making them all wear explosives around their necks while standing in a circle."

The Algerian workers were held separately and "were treated with kindness", he said, and eventually they were allowed to leave.