Algeria hostage crisis: Survivors’ tales of terror and brutality in the desert

Share this article
Have your say

FROM the bloody wreckage of the In Amenas gas plant have emerged stories of brutality, fear and survival against all odds.

Among them was an unnamed Japanese worker who was on a bus attacked by a group of heavily armed militants in the desert early on Wednesday.

As the vehicle in front was hit by a hail of bullets, the bus driver 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 back to their lodging house.

The Japanese man barricaded himself in his room and cowered with the lights off as gunmen searched the buildings.

Eventually, the door splintered open as militants shot the lock apart. He was handcuffed and frogmarched to a bright room with other foreign hostages. There he was forced to watch as two former colleagues were shot dead.

“I was prepared to die,” he was quoted as saying.

He and a Filipino colleague were then bundled into a vehicle, which was driven off towards the gas plant. But they were attacked, their vehicle was sprayed with bullets and his captors fled.

In the hours that followed, the Japanese survivor, who did not know who had attacked the terrorists’ vehicle, hid under a truck, away from the gun battle raging around him.

At one point, he watched with horror as a bus full of fellow Japanese workers came under attack. He said he had no idea what happened to the people 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.

Other witnesses said that when the terrorists entered the plant they appealed to Algerian hostages to give up their foreign co-workers.

“You are Algerians and Muslims, you have nothing to fear. We’re looking for Christians, who kill our brothers in Mali and Afghanistan,” the Islamists shouted.

Riad, an Algerian employee of Japan’s JGC engineering firm, described how three of his Japanese colleagues were executed after the Islamists attacked the bus that was taking them to the airport.

“We were all terrified when we heard bursts of gunfire at 5:30am on Wednesday, after we realised that they had just killed our Japanese colleagues who tried to flee,” he said.

The gunmen then took the passengers to the plant’s residential compound, where they had seized hundreds of foreign and Algerian hostages.

“A terrorist shouted ‘Open the door!’ with a strong North American accent, and opened fire. Two other Japanese died then and we found four other Japanese bodies” in the compound, said Riad.

No official images of the attack have been released. But survivors took photos showing bodies riddled with bullets.

In the past few days, survivors have told how they were strapped to explosives and the apparent leader of the militants, Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, confirmed he was ready at any time to blow up the hostages.

A British man was threatened into calling out to his colleagues: “Come out, they’re not going to kill you. They’re looking for the Americans”, according to an Algerian worker named Chabene.

“A few minutes later they blew him away,” he added.