Exclusive: Algerian oil worker recounts escaping from terrorists

Since the start of the hostage situation at the In Amenas gas complex on January 16, very little information has filtered out of the remote site, located in the Algerian desert. Thanks to our Observers, however, we managed to get in contact with Brahim, a BP employee stuck on the site until Thursday afternoon. He managed to flee with about 50 of his Algerian colleagues and three foreigners.
 
Thursday, the army launched an attack on the site, where Islamist extremists had taken hostage several hundred Algerians and 41 Westerners. Late in the day, Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said said that “a large number of hostages were freed and a large number of terrorists were neutralized” during the operation.
 
On Friday, 650 more people were set free, according to the Algerian news agency APS, including 573 Algerians and “more than half of the foreign hostages”. According to Algerian security sources, terrorists are still barricaded in the gas plant, and the operation to rescue the remaining hostages is still underway.
 
This is the first such attack against an Algerian gas plant site: the country’s sites usually have the reputation of being very well protected and difficult to access.
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"I spent the night hiding underneath my prefab living quarters, absolutely terrified"

Brahim works as a driver for a group of BP technicians at the In Amenas site.
 
It was about 5:45 in the morning on Wednesday when the alarm siren started ringing. Right after this, we heard shots ringing. We walked out of the prefabs in which we live and each of us tried to find a hiding place. There was a bit of space between the ground and the floor of my quarters, so I crept under there.
 
In this section of the site’s living quarters, there were about 50 Algerians, and no foreigners. My neighbours were drivers, security agents, and cooks. Myself, I’m a driver for a group of BP technicians.
 
The electricity quickly went off right away in our section. From where we were, we couldn’t see anything because our prefab homes were separated by a metal fence from the part of the site controlled by the terrorists, where many Algerian and foreign employees worked.
 
Thanks to our walkie-talkies, though, we were able to receive a few bits of information. But pretty soon, the line went dead. We were then cut off from the outside world.
 
"A Filipino employee and two Turkish ones managed to flee the part of the site controlled by the terrorists by cutting a hole in the metal fence"
 
Photo by Kjetil Alsvik / Statoil. Undated photo.
 
We were very afraid, my colleagues and I, but a few people managed to get to the kitchen [a few metres away] to grab some food and water, which they then distributed to the rest of us in our hiding places. When night fell, a few of my colleagues went back into their barracks to sleep, but I spent the night under my quarters, absolutely terrified.
 
A Filipino employee and two Turkish ones managed to flee the part of the site controlled by the terrorists by cutting a hole in the metal fence. We got them into hiding places and tried to calm them down. They were in a panic.
 
At about 1 p.m. yesterday, the Algerian army started to attack the terrorists. Despite our fear, as soon as we started hearing the fire fight, we decided it was time to try our luck. As bullets rang out non-stop, we cut holes in the metal fence with large clippers, and once through, we all started running. There were about 50 of us plus the three foreigners. We were quickly taken in by the special forces stationed just a dozen metres from the base. I didn’t look back. All I saw during my escape was that a plane was flying over the site.
 
The army searched us and interrogated us, then turned us over to the police who drove us to the closest airport. I am now home.
 
Post written with France 24 journalist Djamel Belayachi.

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