Belfast Telegraph

Ulster hostage’s miraculous dash for freedom with al-Qaida bomb around his neck

By Claire McNeilly

The west Belfast man who was freed after being held hostage in Algeria has told of his amazing escape from al-Qaida.

Father-of-two Stephen McFaul (36) was abducted with up to 41 foreign oil workers from a remote gas field in the volatile region.

With at least one British citizen having already died in the crisis, Mr McFaul’s older brother Brian (42) said the BP employee of 13 years was lucky to be alive.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the Andersonstown man said his family had been preparing for the worst following yesterday’s strike by the Algerian army.

“We were so relieved to hear that Stephen is unharmed — but he had a very close shave with death,” Brian said. “On Wednesday night they made him sleep with his mouth taped up, his hands tied and they put Semtex around his neck.

“We also found out that al-Qaida were taking five jeeps out of the compound yesterday when the Algerian army bombed the compound.

“Out of those five Jeeps, four were wiped out. Stephen’s Jeep was the only one than wasn’t bombed; it crashed and Stephen made a run for it — with Semtex strapped to his neck.

“We still don’t know all the details, all we know is that he made it out, if that isn’t luck for you I don’t know what is. It’s a lot to take in for the family but at least we know he is safe and well.”

|Brian said his brother phoned wife Angela as soon as he was taken to a secure location.

“He didn’t want to worry her or their children, but I don’t think she’ll let him go back to Algeria after that,” Brian added.

“We’re just waiting to get him home now. He’s been through a terrible ordeal and it’s going to take him a long time to get over it.”

Prime Minister David Cameron last night said he was prepared “for the possibility of further bad news” as an unconfirmed number of hostages remained in danger.

“My heart goes out to all the families who lost loved ones over there,” Brian added. “They were all just like my brother; out there doing a job. We are also thinking about the people still out there.”

Reports a second Northern Ireland man had been taken hostage proved to be incorrect.

Background

Algeria in ancient times was recognised as a crossroads for people moving between Europe and Africa and saw waves of invasion and migration. In the modern era it had a turbulent history of colonial rule by France followed by a bitter civil war that killed up to a million people, resulting in independence in 1963. Since then it has suffered from a coup and military rule and low-level insurgency from fundamentalist Islamist rebels. A fragile period of relative peace and stability followed an amnesty for rebel fighters in 2000.

Tense wait over for relatives of man who cheated certain death

By Claire McNeilly

It was always going to end in tears.

But the McFaul family from Andersonstown in west Belfast didn’t know whether they would be tears of relief or tears of anguish.

Mercifully for them it was the former, as the longest 48 hours of their lives finally ended with the joyous, uplifting news that Stephen was free.

It was always going to be touch and go for the 36-year-old father-of-two being held hostage by militants in a remote Algerian compound.

It was nothing but sheer anguish for his wife Angela and sons Dylan (13) and Jake (4), whom he last saw on Boxing Day.

As an intense military strike by Algerian troops got under way yesterday, no one could be completely certain of ever seeing him again.

Stephen was working as a supervising electrician at the oil field at In Amenas when it was occupied by al-Qaida-linked fighters on Wednesday.

He was among up to 41 foreign oil workers kidnapped during a dawn raid and there were reports that at least one Briton had been killed.

As news of Stephen’s abduction filtered through the close-knit community in which he grew up, there was a mixture of fear and disbelief.

During a career spanning more than a decade, the kind, happy-go-lucky family man, had worked in a number of African countries without incident.

But that all changed at 5am on January 16, when rebels calling themselves the Battalion of Blood swooped on the gas plant, some 800 miles south of the capital Algiers, near the Libyan border.

In captivity he spent that night gagged, bound and weighed down by a deadly collar of Semtex — a high explosive used in commercial blasting or demolition, and a terrorist favourite. While the intricate details of Stephen’s escape may currently remain scant, his family are in no doubt that he somehow cheated death.

His older brother Brian said that he believes Stephen is only alive today because he bravely took the one and only chance he had to flee.

“Al-Qaida were taking five Jeeps out of the compound yesterday when the Algerian army bombed the compound,” said Brian. “Out of those five Jeeps, four were wiped out. Stephen’s Jeep was the only Jeep that wasn’t bombed; it crashed and Stephen made a run for it — even with that Semtex strapped to his neck.”

Details of his miraculous escape only began to unfold late last night. As the military operation to free the other hostages came to a close Algerian State TV said seven foreigners had been killed in the operation.

There was no confirmation of how many hostages had survived, but the British Government said there could be multiple casualties.

Back home, choking back tears, Stephen’s son Dylan said he would give his dad a big hug when he sees him — and never let him go overseas again.

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