Released abductees tell of relief as PM vows to hunt terrorists
Algerian special forces were last night continuing to hunt Islamist militants who overran a BP gas plant as freed British hostages spoke of their fears for their colleagues still trapped on the site.
The Algerian State news agency APS reported that about 100 foreign workers had been released from a total of 132 seized by the militants when they stormed the remote desert facility on Wednesday.
At least 10 UK nationals were understood to still be “at risk” at the plant at In Amenas as the hostage crisis |headed towards a fourth day.
Footage of several British freed hostages has been shown on Algerian State television. One man praised the Algerian security forces.
“The gendarmes did a fantastic job. They kept us all nice and safe and fought off the bad guys.
“I never really felt in any danger, to be honest,” he said.
Another expressed concern for |colleagues still trapped in the plant.
“I feel safe at the moment but I won't feel 100% happy until I'm back in the UK,” he said.
“My heart goes out to the guys that are still there and hopefully everyone comes home safe because, at the end of the day, it's only work.” Eighteen of
the militants were reported to have been killed — suggesting that around a dozen of the original group of about 30 could still be at large.
A Mauritanian news site reported that the remaining militants were |demanding the release of two terrorists held in the United States, including 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Omar Abdel Rahman, in return for the release of two US |captives.
Despite the casualties among the hostages, an Algerian government source strongly defended the military operation, saying it had prevented a “true disaster” which would have caused “immeasurable” human and material damage. The rescue mission had been carried out in “extremely complex circumstances” against terrorists armed with an arsenal of missiles, rocket launchers, grenades and assault rifles, the source said.
Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would do “everything we can to hunt down” those behind the “brutal and savage” attack.
But he expressed his frustration that he had not been notified in advance of the assault.
He said that he had offered UK “technical and intelligence support” —including from experts in hostage negotiation
and rescue — but that it was not taken up.
It was reported that two UK workers were among the casualties, which would bring the British death toll to three after one was killed in Wednesday's initial raid by the militants.
The foreign hostages are from eight countries, and many Algerians are held captive.
The Foreign Office has sent a plane carrying consular crisis staff to within 280 miles of the facility.
Mr Cameron, who cancelled a trip to the Netherlands so he could remain in the UK to oversee the crisis, chaired two meetings of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee. He told a sombre House of Commons that he learned of the military raid only after it was under way.
He told MPs that he would not hide the fact that he was “disappointed not to be informed in advance” and the UK had offered to help “in any way we can”.
“They were facing the situation where there was imminent threat to life and we should bear that in mind.”
Mr Cameron stressed the need to combat the growing threat of terrorism in the Sahel region.
“The threat posed by AQM (local al-Qaida) is made worse when we have so much ungoverned space in Mali. The threat will grow.”