Kidnappers still hold foreigners in Algerian plant
World capitals remained in crisis mode last night as one of the worst international hostage dramas in decades continued at a remote gas plant in the Algerian desert.
More than 20 foreigners were being held captive a day after Algerian forces stormed the sprawling complex to free hundreds of hostages taken by Islamist militants.
Belfast electrician Stephen McFaul (36), who survived the ordeal unharmed, arrived in London last night and is expected to complete his journey to Belfast over the weekend.
A family spokesman said Mr McFaul left Algeria yesterday afternoon and arrived in Gatwick airport last night. He was staying in London for one or two nights to attend a foreign office debriefing and a medical assessment.
Norway’s prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, eight of whose countrymen were missing last night, said fighters still controlled the gas treatment plant, while Algerian forces held the nearby residential compound that housed hundreds of workers. The installation had been put out of action to reduce the risk of an explosion.
Death toll unclear
Some 650 Algerians and dozens of western workers were freed from the site near In Amenas, 100km from the Libyan border, on Thursday, but the death toll remained unclear.
Washington, Paris, London and Tokyo – all of which have citizens caught up in the drama – were on a crisis footing over the unfolding events, which threaten to escalate unrest in west Africa a week after French forces launched a military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali.
The US sent a military aircraft to the region yesterday, and secretary of state Hillary Clinton said Washington was “deeply concerned” about those who remained in danger.
Britain and Japan have criticised the Algerians for storming the compound without consulting with them, but Algiers insists it was forced to act when the kidnappers attempted to flee with their hostages.
“We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part,” British prime minister David Cameron said.