Irish man freed as Algeria defends rescue mission
Algeria is facing mounting criticism after its assault on the besieged gas plant in its southern desert left many hostages dead.
The Algerian government confirmed hostages were killed in a military operation that brought a two-day stand-off to an end but said troops had been forced to act by the stance of their captors.
Conflicting reports put the death toll at between six and 34, but Irish citizen Stephen McFaul, a 36-year-old electrician from Belfast, was among a number of workers who were safe and free last night.
Algeria’s communications minister, Mohamed Said, said the authorities had done all they could to ensure the hostages’ survival but blamed “the diehard attitude of the terrorists” for forcing the military into its land and air attack.
“There will be no negotiation, no blackmail, no respite in the struggle against terrorism,” the Algerian news agency APS quoted Mr Said as saying.
He added that a number of hostage-takers had been killed as they attempted to flee the site.
Islamist militants claimed to have taken 41 foreigners hostage after they raided the remote oil installation near In Amenas, about 100km from the Algeria-Libya border, on Wednesday morning.
At least 150 Algerian workers were also caught up in the siege.
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, whose country had citizens among the hostages, called his Algerian counterpart in order to express “strong concern” and urge a halt to the operation.
An Islamist group claimed responsibility for the hostage-taking, telling a Mauritanian news agency it was in response to the French military intervention against rebels who have taken control of northern Mali.
However, some analysts said the hostage-taking – the first on such a scale in Algeria – would have been planned before the French operation began last Friday.
Algiers said the kidnappers were led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist guerrilla who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore told CNN the hostages had explosives strapped to them as they were moved around the complex by their captors.
Mr McFaul’s mother, Marie, said: “I’m delighted, thrilled to bits. Sorry for other people that are still there, but we’re very happy, over the moon.”