Algeria: I was prepared to die, says hostage

2013-01-21 07:45
The Amenas gas field in eastern Algeria near the Libyan border where Algerian troops surrounded Islamists holding foreign hostages. (AFP)

The Amenas gas field in eastern Algeria near the Libyan border where Algerian troops surrounded Islamists holding foreign hostages. (AFP)

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Tokyo - A Japanese hostage who narrowly survived the armed attack on an Algerian gas plant said he was sure he would die after seeing two colleagues shot dead in front of him, a report said on Monday.

The unnamed man told colleagues how Islamist gunmen had dragged him from his barricaded room, handcuffed him and executed two hostages standing nearby.

In a chilling account of his escape, published on Monday in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper, the hostage told colleagues he had been aboard a bus when it was attacked by a group of heavily-armed Islamists in the Sahara desert early on Wednesday.

Seven Japanese are known to have survived the three-day assault, which ended in a bloodbath on Saturday - all of them connected to Japanese plant builder JGC.

The man said he was leaving a lodging house with other foreign workers in a convoy of buses when militants first swooped.

As the vehicle in front was hit by a hail of bullets, the driver of his bus slammed the vehicle into reverse and tried to flee.

But a wheel snapped off, stranding the bus and forcing passengers to run through the desert and seek refuge at the workers' formerly-secure lodging house.

The man barricaded himself in his room and cowered with the lights off, as gunmen began their rampage through the compound.

But a short time later, the door splintered open as militants shot the lock apart and burst in, plucking the frightened man from his hiding place and clamping handcuffs on him.

He was frogmarched to a bright room with other foreign hostages where his captors began speaking Arabic with some of his Algerian colleagues.

72-hour ordeal

The next thing he knew someone opened fire and two people slumped to the floor, dead, in front of him.

"I was prepared to die," JGC spokesperson Takeshi Endo quoted the employee as saying.

The bodies of other foreigners lay on the ground as he and a Filipino colleague were bundled into a vehicle and driven off towards the gas plant.

Without warning the vehicle was sprayed with bullets, which pierced the windshield and forced the prisoners to duck down as low as possible to avoid being shot.

As their captors abandoned the vehicle the prisoners were left alone, not knowing who had opened fire.

In the hours that followed the Japanese survivor hid under a truck, trying to stay away from the gun battle that raged around him. As bullets flew past he saw a bus full of hostages - some wearing JGC uniforms - drive past.

He watched with horror as the vehicle came under attack, but said he had no idea of the fate of those on board.

After nightfall, when the shooting had stopped he began trudging through the desert, walking for an hour before he came across Algerian soldiers and safety.

JGC, which has 78 employees in Algeria, said on Monday morning 17 of its employees who were at the plant are still unaccounted for - 10 Japanese and seven others.

Witnesses have said nine Japanese people were killed in the 72-hour ordeal.

Read more on:    algeria  |  japan  |  north africa
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