Irishman freed as siege 'over'
An Irishman caught up in the Algerian hostage crisis has been freed as Algeria's state news agency APS said that the military operation to free hostages at a remote desert gas facility had ended.
The death toll among hostages remained unclear tonight. One Algerian security source said 30 hostages were killed but Algerian state television said that four captives had died.
Algerian communications minister Mohamed Said Belaid said: “The operation was successful in neutralising a large number of terrorists and freeing a large number of hostages but unfortunately, we are sorry to say, there were some deaths and injuries.
“We do not yet have a definitive figure. As soon as we have it, we will make it public," he said.
At least 11 Islamist militants including their leader were killed when Algerian forces stormed a desert gas plant to rescue dozens of hostages, the Algerian security source said.
He said two Algerians, including the group's leader Tahar Ben Cheneb, a prominent commander in the region, were among the dead, along with three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a French citizen. It was not clear whether further bodies of militants might be found now the operation is over.
The freed Irishman Stephen McFaul (36) from west Belfast made contact with his family at around 3pm to inform them he was "safe and well" and no longer a hostage, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
Fears had been growing for the safety of Mr McFaul as conflicting and contradictory reports emerged about the ongoing terrorist incident at the In Amenas gas field complex in the east of the African country. Mr McFaul had been working as an electrical engineer in Algeria.
Mr McFaul’s father, Christopher, described the last 48 hours as “hell” but said the family had been “very strong”. His 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”. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was “greatly relieved” to hear that Mr McFaul’s ordeal had ended.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said he was "extremely thankful and relieved" to learn that Mr McFaul was safe.
Twenty-five foreign hostages escaped when Algerian forces launched a surprise operation to free them at a remote desert gas plant, Algerian sources said, as one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades unfolded.
British prime minister David Cameron said tonight that his country should be “prepared for the possibility of further bad news” in the hostage crisis in Algeria.
With a confused picture of what is happening on the ground following an Algerian military operation, Mr Cameron has postponed his speech on Europe in the Netherlands tomorrow to stay in Downing Street.
One British citizen is known to have died in the crisis and several others have been caught up in it.
Mr Cameron said: “It’s a fluid situation, it’s ongoing, it’s very uncertain.....We should be prepared for the possibility of further bad news, very difficult news, in this extremely difficult situation.”
The British government has confirmed that there are “several” British nationals among the foreign hostages held by Islamist militants at the gas plant at In Amenas, deep in the Algerian desert.