Canadian 'co-ordinated' Algeria siege


A Canadian citizen led the four-day siege that ended with the killing of at least 37 foreign workers at a gas plant in the Sahara desert, Algeria has said.

As soldiers continued to scour the site at In Amenas for bombs, Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal said 29 militants had been killed in the siege, which ended when the military stormed the complex. Three of the kidnappers were taken alive.

“A Canadian was among the militants. He was co-ordinating the attack,” Mr Sellal told a press conference, a claim the Canadian government said it was working to verify.

US, British, French, Japanese, Norwegian, Filipino and Romanian workers are dead or missing after the attack, for which veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar has claimed responsibility. The kidnappers had planned the attack two months ago in neighbouring Mali, where French forces began fighting Islamists this month, Mr Sellal said.

Death toll

As the reported death toll continued to rise, Japan said seven of its citizens had been killed and the fate of three more was unknown. Norwegian international development minister Heikki Holmas said his stepfather, Tore Bech, was among the missing and presumed dead. Mr Bech was a manager at the site for Norwegian energy company Statoil.

Mr Sellal said that initially the raiders had tried to hijack a bus carrying foreign workers to a nearby airport and take them hostage. That attack was repelled by soldiers guarding the bus.

He said the militant Islamist group had then gone into the installation itself, where they planted explosives with a view to blowing up the facility.

Mr Sellal said the spark for the Algerians’ storming of the complex on Friday came when one group of militants tried to escape in some vehicles, each of which was also carrying three or four foreign workers, some of whom had explosives attached to their bodies.

After what he called a “fierce response from the armed forces”, the raiders’ vehicles crashed or exploded and one of their leaders was among those killed. Irish electrician Stephen McFaul (36) has said he was a passenger in the one vehicle that was not destroyed.

Mr Sellal claimed the group crossed into Algeria from neighbouring Libya last Wednesday. According to an Algerian newspaper, the attackers had arrived in cars painted in the colours of state energy company Sonatrach but registered in Libya.

In Mali, meanwhile, France declared a success on the battlefield when its forces took control of the strategic central towns of Diabaly and Douentza after the Islamist rebels who had seized them retreated into the desert to avoid air strikes.

Diabaly, 350km (217 miles)north of Mali’s capital, Bamako, had harboured the main cluster of insurgents south of the frontline towns of Mopti and Sevare. Douentza lies 800km (500 miles) northeast of Bamako along the main road towards the rebel stronghold of Gao.

Mali deployment

France has deployed 2,000 troops to Mali and its military aircraft pounded rebel columns and bases for an 11th day yesterday.

Paris, which says its intervention turned back an Islamist column heading towards Bamako, hopes eventually to hand over the military operation to a UN-sanctioned African mission, although that deployment has been hampered by a lack of supplies, funds and training.

Gerry Moriarty adds: Stephen McFaul, the west Belfast native who survived the Algerian hostage ordeal, has returned to his family in Northern Ireland.

Mr McFaul was yesterday reunited with his family, which includes his wife, Angela, children, Dylan and Jake, and stepchildren, Rebecca, Anton and Ethan. The PSNI said in a statement that it was assisting the McFaul family in a liaison capacity.

“Stephen has asked that no further inquiries are made to him or members of his family by any media outlets,” the PSNI said.

“Stephen and his family have been through a very traumatic situation over the past few days.

“Stephen wishes to have time to reflect on what has happened to him and is very aware that he has lost friends and work colleagues in Algeria. His thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones and to those families who are still awaiting news.”