Algeria hostage crisis: ‘It was like the Great Escape’ says Scottish survivor

Algeria security forces escort a bus carrying freed hostages. Picture: Getty
Algeria security forces escort a bus carrying freed hostages. Picture: Getty
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A SCOT who survived the Algeria hostage crisis has spoken of his relief after hiding in an office before escaping through a wire fence and returning to his young family.

Alan Wright, 37, a health and safety adviser, hid with about 30 colleagues in a pitch black room as Islamic terrorists attacked the gas compound. They locked the door and covered the window in the hope they would not be uncovered.

Finally, they fled the In Amenas compound, cutting their way through a perimeter fence.

Even then Mr Wright feared he would be recaptured, and believed he had made “the biggest mistake of my life” when his group were intercepted by what he initially thought were terrorists dressed as soldiers.

Speaking from his home in Portsoy, Aberdeenshire, yesterday with wife Karlyn, 31, and daughters Imogen, four and Esme, 18 months, he said: “The first we knew something was happening was when the power went off and the alarm sounded – a common occurrence for an outage and a plant shut-down procedure.

“Myself and three other colleagues went to the muster point but there was no-one there and we went back to our office. It was then that an Algerian national employee told us there was a terrorist attack.

“We had a procedure, should something like that happen, and we locked ourselves in the office and taped papers over the window so no-one could see inside and sat tight.

“The building we were in had toilets and food and water so we knew we could hold out for a while. There were also armed guards we called gendarmes at the plant there to protect us, so we felt relatively safe.

“There was gunfire outside, sometimes intense, and then at times quiet and we sat for three and a half hours.

“Other colleagues told us the terrorists wore either military uniform or gendarmes’, so we would not know who was friend or foe.”

At one point they were nearly uncovered, he said.

“Someone came into the building about 9:30am and said good morning in Arabic, very politely, and we were sure that was a terrorist trying to entice people out, so we didn’t move.

“We sat throughout the day in darkness and silence, sometimes taking the chance to go to the toilet or get some food or drink.

“[I] managed to grab some sleep, while others kept watch. There were about 30 workers in the building, including a lot of Algerians who could have left unharmed. But they knew if they did, it might betray us and we owe these guys our lives for staying with us.”

He sent a text to his wife to reassure her: “Don’t panic. Terrorists in camp.” Then another: “BP may say I am missing. I am not. Don’t worry. Don’t reply. Love all of you.”

His wife said: “It was wonderful to receive them. I knew he was alive when the news was saying all the time that hostages and casualties were rising. It was such a worrying time.”

The Algerian nationals with them agreed they should try to escape through the perimeter fence at first light.

The wire fence was only 20yd from their hiding place.

Mr Wright said: “When I heard the first twang of the wire being cut I was like a rabbit out of the trap. I grabbed a hat and anorak to try and look like a local and made a break for it with the rest of the lads.

“It was like the Great Escape. We all climbed through the fence and ran into the desert as gunfire chattered behind us as the fighting went on.

“We took the satellite phone and were about 1km in when we saw a military post. But we didn’t know if they were friend or foe.”

The group were told to stop, kneel down and say nothing.

Then the armed men began isolating the locals until only the four expatriates were left.

“We were there for about ten minutes alone and it was the most terrifying. We thought we had walked into the arms of the terrorists disguised as soldiers.

“But one of the nationals recognised a couple of them, and we knew we were safe.”