Algeria: Belfast man Stephen McFaul escapes from militants
The family of a Belfast man held in the Algerian hostage crisis have described their delight at his release after two days of anguish.
Father-of-two Stephen McFaul, 36, from west Belfast, had been in one of five jeeps containing hostages and kidnappers, which were on the move when the Algerian military operation took place yesterday.
Four of the vehicles in the convoy were bombed while the fifth, carrying Mr McFaul, crashed.
Mr McFaul managed to escape from it and make it to safety. He made contact with his wife Angela around 3pm yesterday to say he was safe and well.
His 13-year-old son Dylan choked back tears as he declared he would give the electrician a "big hug" as soon as he sees him and never let him go overseas again.
"I am very happy, I just cannot wait for him to come home," he said.
Mr McFaul, who also has a four-year-old son Jake, is being looked after by Algerian authorities while arrangements are made for his return.
Mr McFaul's father Christopher said his son is an easy-going, happy-go-lucky person who took everything in his stride, but that he was worried for him and delighted that he had come through the ordeal at the gasfield complex in Amenas.
"I never doubted it but it is hard to say in those situations," he said.
Donna McBride, Mr McFaul's sister, added: "I feel so sorry for the rest of the families who have lost loved ones and others who are missing."
Mr McFaul, who was last at home on Boxing Day, works as a supervising electrician at the gasfield.
Algeria is one of a number of African countries he has worked in during an extensive career in the industry.
His sister said he is a very kind person who would do anything for anyone.
"I can imagine out there he has probably done everything in his power to make sure everybody is safe," she said.
"It is just a pity that some people have lost their lives."
Mr McFaul's wife Angela said she expects him home tomorrow.
After meeting with her earlier today, Mr Gilmore said Mr McFaul was physically unharmed.
"Angela told me there is not a scratch on him," he said.
The Tanaiste would not elaborate on Mr McFaul's experience, saying he would prefer to leave it to him to tell the story.
He said he was also conscious of the safety of others still involved.
It is understood there are 60 Irish nationals registered as living in Algeria.
"We have contact with those people and none of them are in any danger," Mr Gilmore added.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid tribute to everybody involved in the effort to resolve the crisis.
Brian McFaul, the gasfield worker's brother, said some of the toughest parts of the hostage drama were sparked by confused reports from the region.
"The not knowing part - not knowing what's happening," he said.
"You are relying on the news agencies from around the world and you are trying to to decide what story is true and what's not."
Mr McFaul said one of the lowest moments was when reports emerged of the Algerian army raid on the plant and detail of soldiers firing on the camp.
He described his brother as a considerate man.
"He's the type of person who would try and look after others," Mr McFaul said.
Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness expressed relief at the release of Mr McFaul and hoped he can return to his family in the near future.
The ministers said their thoughts are also with the other oil and gas workers being held hostage in Algeria.
Son says he'll never allow his dad to return to the oilfields
By Breda Heffernan
The 13-year-old son of freed Irish hostage Stephen McFaul has vowed not to let his father return to the Algerian desert.
Dylan McFaul said he could not wait to give his father "a big hug" as the longed-for news arrived that he had been freed.
"I'm not letting him go back," he added.
Mr McFaul (36), from Andersonstown, Belfast, was among a group of 41 foreign nationals who were held hostage by Islamist militants following a raid on their remote gas refinery near the Libyan border.
The BP engineer was able to call his wife, Angela, at lunchtime to tell her he was free and at a "safe camp".
It brought to an end two days of "hell" for his anxious family in Belfast.
Mr McFaul's parents, Chris and Marie, said: "We got a phone call at five o'clock on Wednesday morning to tell us they'd been taken. Then there were reports of helicopter strikes with 35 dead, 15 dead, but it was only an hour after those reports that we got a call to say he'd escaped."
Mr McFaul had just returned after Christmas leave to his job as a manager for Swedish oil company Itoa, where he has been working for the past two years.
His sister, Donna McBride, told how the family's dread at the confused reports of Algerian army helicopter strikes on the compound with multiple dead and injured hostages and captors had left them fearing the worst.
The family were kept informed of the unfolding crisis by the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs.
Mr McFaul had been able to contact his family twice while he was in captivity. At around 6am he called from the living quarters at the plant where he was hiding with a Scotsman and an Algerian. Gunfire could be heard in the background.
Three hours later, he rang and said he was being held by al-Qa'ida.
Algeria attack predictable: expert
By Arj Singh
An American security expert said last night the terrorist attack in Algeria was a predictable reaction to French intervention in Mali and that foreign companies should have beefed up security in the region.
Don Borelli, a former FBI terrorism expert, said the terrorists' suspected ringleader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, had recently gone on video to say there would be an imminent attack against the West and that he would have lost credibility if he did not carry out his threat.
Mr Borelli, who now works with the Soufan Group, a strategic consultancy, where he advises multi-national groups and energy companies on security, said he would have advised his clients in the region to ramp up security as the situation deteriorated.
But he stopped short of criticising the Algerians for carrying out a military raid before warning the British Government, as hostages may have been killed or the terrorists could have escaped to an area under their control if they did not go in.
Mr Borelli, who worked for the FBI for 25 years, said the French incursion into northern Mali probably reunited previously disparate Islamist groups in the region.
"(The attack) was somewhat predictable. We have seen the whole situation in Mali over the past few months deteriorate," he said.
"This led to the French saying enough is enough. The bad side of that is - with every action there is a reaction.
"We expected and predicted there would be retaliation.
"Before this there was a lot of infighting between terrorist groups in Mali - not everyone was in agreement about how things should be done. Unfortunately now it has probably reunited them. It is too early to tell."
As soon as the situation escalated in Mali, companies should have made contact with their regional governments and beefed up security around their facilities, Mr Borelli said.
"I don't know what their security there was once the French troops landed in Mali. It should have been increased," he said.
"That just added to it - the stakes went higher at that point. Did they do that? I don't know.
"Certainly I would have advised our clients in the region that you really need to be cognisant of the fact that your workers are at risk. They are in a desert that is essentially the land of the terrorists.
"They know the roads, they have the tribal connections, they know the territory like the back of their hands and it certainly creates a challenge for companies who want to operate in these areas."
The swift military action by Algeria, that some say may have led to the deaths of some of the hostages, has been criticised around the world.
But Mr Borelli said it was impossible to know what the situation on the ground was.
"I don't know what triggered them to move in," he said.
"Normally in a hostage situation you want to try and buy time - it allows you to gather intelligence, it allows you to know who the bad guys are, how many bad guys there are and what to do on the ground.
"If it looks as though there is going to be imminent killing or an escape plan then sometimes you don't have that time.
"You don't want them leaving and getting out into the areas they control. That may have been part of their calculations."
Mr Borelli, the Soufan Group's chief operating officer, said it was difficult for governments to deal with terrorists who were not demanding a ransom, calling negotiation a "non-starter".
He said the Islamist group probably carried out the attack as revenge for Algeria allowing the French to use their airspace to bomb targets in Mali.
But the motivations of their leader, who was recently kicked out of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), according to Mr Borelli, may also have been a factor.
"They wanted to punish Algeria for allowing the French to use their airspace to carry out attacks against Mali.
"A lot of it is that Belmokhtar said there will be attacks on the West. He wanted to keep his promise. The worst thing a terrorist can do is say you are going to attack and then nothing happens. Then you lose credibility.
"He was kicked out of AQIM and maybe this is a way to say 'I'm effective, I'm still relevant in this game'."
With heavy weaponry being moved from the aftermath of the Libyan civil war into new conflict zones, Mr Borelli said the situation would only worsen in the short-term.
"I hate to say that security is falling but I don't see it getting better," he said.
"You have got so many weapons that have come out of Libya - there was a report about a month ago where they found missiles buried in the desert.
"It is a lot of heavy weaponry in the black market - that is dangerous in the hands of terrorists.
"Now you have this really high-grade escalation - you have got the French troops on the ground.
"I can't foresee it getting better in the near future."
Anger over MEP's al Qaida tweet
By Lauren Turner
Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson faced fierce criticism last night after a tweet was sent from his account insinuating that al Qaida had won a victory over the Prime Minister.
The "sick and offensive" message, sent from the account of Mr Watson, who represents South West England and Gibraltar, read: "Al Qaeda 1, @David-Cameron 0."
The dig was an apparent jibe at Mr Cameron's decision to postpone his planned trip to Amsterdam for a speech on Europe and instead stay in the UK following the Algerian hostage crisis.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg "utterly condemned" the tweet, for which Mr Watson later apologised.
The MEP wrote: "I wish to apologise profusely for the insensitive tweet I issued earlier. I have taken it down."
Users of the site called for Mr Watson's resignation over the message, which came as it was reported that two British workers were among the dead following an Algerian military raid to free hostages at a desert gas plant.
Speaking shortly after the tweet, a Lib Dem spokesman said: "We have not been able to verify whether this tweet is authentic.
"But whoever it is from, it is clearly sick and offensive and is utterly condemned by Nick Clegg."
He later added: "Graham has profusely apologised for his insensitive tweet."
Conservative blogger and broadcaster Iain Dale said Mr Watson was a "disgrace", adding: "What a disgusting thing to do."
Twitter-user @Biltawulf wrote: "Unelectable insensitive idiot. You just turned people's families into a football score."
The sentiment was echoed by @hughbs, who addressed Mr Watson directly, saying: "Sorry, apology not accepted. You have revealed just how petty and self-serving you really are. Hope electorate will judge."