Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Belfast man held hostage in Algeria released

A Belfast man who was taken hostage in Algeria has been freed, his family confirmed today.

Stephen McFaul (36) from Andersonstown in west Belfast made contact with his wife this afternoon.

The Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs said he told his family that he was "safe and well" and was no longer a hostage.

Mr MCFaul had managed to contact his family twice since armed militants seized control of the gas field plant where he works and was being held along with other foreign nationals.

The kidnappers occupied the complex on Wednesday, killing a Briton and an Algerian in the attack.

Arab television station Al Jazeera had earlier broadcast telephone calls apparently from some of the hostages - including an Irishman and a Briton - but later pulled the broadcast.

The station said it was unclear whether the captives were speaking under duress.

Earlier today Reuters reported a local source as saying that six hostages and eight of their captors were killed in an Algerian strike on the complex close to the Libyan border.

The militants contacted a news agency in neighbouring Mauritania to claim that 35 hostages and 15 militants died when Algerian helicopters began strafing the plant.

Amid conflicting reports, an Algerian official said earlier today that 20 people, including Europeans and Americans, had managed to escape the kidnappers.

BP, which part-controls the plant and has staff being held hostage, said: "We have been informed by the UK and Algerian governments that the Algerian army is attempting to take control of the In Amenas site.

"The situation remains unclear and we continue to seek updates from the authorities.

"Sadly, there have been some reports of casualties but we are still lacking any confirmed or reliable information. There are also reports of hostages being released or escaping."

It said that, as a precautionary measure, a group of non-essential workers were being brought out of Algeria.

Chief executive Bob Dudley said: "Supporting these families is our priority and we are doing all we can to help during this sad and uncertain time.

"We are in contact with the UK and Algerian governments and will provide updates as soon as further confirmed information is available."

Downing Street said Mr Cameron had been updated on the situation by the Algerian prime minister.

"It remains an ongoing situation," a spokesman said.

A spokesman for the militants - said to be speaking by telephone from the gas complex at In Amenas - told the ANI news agency in Mauritania the hostages were being moved in oil company vehicles to another part of the site when the air attack happened.

Earlier, one hostage, identified as a Briton, was quoted calling for negotiations to "spare any loss of life".

He said: "We are receiving care and good treatment from the kidnappers. The (Algerian) army did not withdraw and they are firing at the camp."

Another hostage said they were being forced to wear explosive belts and the heavily armed gunmen were threatening to blow up the base if the Algerian army stormed it.

Speaking before the latest reports emerged, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond told MSPs that a number of Scots were among those being held.

Mr Cameron's spokesman, also speaking earlier, said the situation was "very serious and dangerous" but the Government was "working through" the Algerians and BP, which part-controls the facility that was stormed.

"Our focus is on working through the Algerian government and the company," the Downing Street spokesman said.

Mr Cameron made clear in a telephone call with his Algerian counterpart last night that Britain would consider "any requests that they make for assistance", his spokesman said. None has been made so far.

Asked whether the Government was happy with the co-operation being offered by the Algerian government, he said: "We are in close contact with them and it's very important that we continue to be so."

A Government source said: "This is a situation where the Algerian government, understandably, very much sees itself as in the lead in its sovereign territory."

Oil giant BP, which part-controls the facility that was attacked, said armed groups were still on-site holding a number of its staff, and described the situation as "unresolved and fragile".

The terrorist group claimed it targeted the Westerners, including seven Americans, in retaliation for the French military intervention against al Qaida-backed rebels in neighbouring Mali.

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