50 Filipinos trapped in Algeria hostage crisis

Posted at 01/18/13 10:33 PM

2 Pinoy hostages killed - Algerian TV


MANILA, Philippines - At least 50 Filipinos are trapped at an oil field in Algeria amid the ongoing hostage taking crisis in the country that has left at least 30 hostages and 18 militants dead.

Sadat Santo, a service engineer of  Emerson Electric Company, an American firm based in Dubai, is among those trapped at the Elmerk Oil Field in Algeria.

Santo, who is on a 3-day commissioned job in Elmerk, one of the four major oil fields in the area, arrived in the oil field a day before the hostage-taking incident.

In a telephone interview with ABS-CBN News, Santo said officials in the oil field have imposed tight security in anticipation for more attacks.

Santo said the Elmerk Oil field has at least 50 Filipino workers.

Santo and the 50 OFWs have been restricted to the oil field and are barred from leaving the area.

Santo said his American firm is expected to bring a chartered plane in the area to bring him back to Dubai on Monday.

Earlier in the day, Algerian TV reported that 2 Filipinos were among those killed in a botched rescue attempt by the country's security forces, Al Jazeera English journalist Ted Regencia told ABS-CBNNews.com.

Reports said another Filipino managed to escape.

Around 600 workers and four foreigners have been freed as a result of the rescue try.

60 foreigners still held hostage

However, around 60 foreigners are still either being held hostage or are missing inside the Algerian gas plant taken over by the militant group "Masked Brigade," which is connected to the Al-Qaeda, according to Reuters.

The kidnappers have offered to swap their captive Americans for 2 militants jailed in the United States, Mauritanian news agency ANI reported.

They named the militants they want freed as Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui and Egyptian Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as "The Blind Sheikh", ANI reported, citing the group's spokesman.

The report did not say how many US hostages were being held.

The militants are claiming revenge for France's intervention against rebels in Mali.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it is still verifying reports of Filipino victims in the hostage crisis.

A report said over 15 Filipinos were working at the gas facility when Islamist militants attacked it.

“Our embassy is now trying to verify this information and determine the number of OFWs in the gas field and the conditions of Filipinos who maybe held as hostages or trapped in the gas field,” said DFA spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez.

Hernandez said the DFA also received information from two sources in the Philippines who contacted their relatives working in the gas field.

“One said her brother, together with 15 other Filipinos, were inside the gas facility. The other source said her husband and four other Filipinos are working there,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez earlier reported that one Filipino managed to escape along with a Japanese co-worker.

“Our embassy in Tripoli received information from the Japanese embassy in Tripoli that a Filipino worker was able to escape together with a Japanese national from the gas field before the military operation started,” he said.

The Philippine Embassy in London also reported that around 34 Filipinos working with different companies in the gas field are being evacuated by chartered plane to London via Parma, Italy.

“One of them sustained a gunshot wound,” said Hernandez.

Deadly raid

The British government, meanwhile, confirmed that several hostages remain in the militants' hands after the deadly raid by security troops.

An Algerian security source said that 18 of the hostage-takers had been killed in Thursday's air ground assault on a housing compound, but the remainder of the more than 30 militants remained holed up in the field's main production facility.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Algerian army was still pursuing "terrorists" and searching for hostages at the gas plant.

He said the first stage of the military operation was complete, "but this is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas of the site."

Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said said the assault freed a "large number" of hostages, but news reports from Algiers said nearly 600 of those rescued were Algerian workers.

Of the 41 foreigners the militants had said they were holding, just a handful were released, the reports said.

BP said that a "small number" of its staff at In Amenas were unaccounted for on Friday, adding it had evacuated hundreds of workers from it and adjacent fields amid the "serious" hostage crisis.

"There is a small number of BP employees at In Amenas whose current location and situation remain uncertain," the British energy giant said.

Cameron said "significantly" fewer than 30 British citizens remained at risk.

JGC: 1 Pinoy, 3 Japanese safe

Japanese plant builder JGC said it had confirmed the safety of three of its Japanese staff and one Filipino, but the whereabouts of 74 other staff, 14 of them Japanese, remained unknown.

Norway's Statoil, which operates the field along with BP and Algerian energy firm Sonatrach, said eight Norwegian staff remained unaccounted for, while a ninth was safe but had been wounded.

France said two of its nationals had returned safe but it had no word on two others reported to have been taken hostage.

One man from Northern Ireland escaped. According to his brother, Stephen McFaul fled when the convoy in which he was travelling came under fire from the army. He had earlier "had explosives tied around his neck."

The kidnappers said 34 captives had died in the assault, but an Algerian security source described the toll as "fantasy."

Japan's foreign ministry summoned the Algerian ambassador to demand an explanation why it had received no prior notice of the commando raid as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cut short a visit to Indonesia to deal with the crisis.

Tokyo said the army assault was "regrettable" and that it was receiving no clear information from on the ground.

A senior US official said Washington "strongly encouraged" the authorities to make the hostages' safety their top priority.

The British premier confirmed that he too was not informed in advance of the assault.

The chief hostage taker, Abu al-Baraa, had told Al-Jazeera television: "We demand the Algerian army pull out from the area to allow negotiations."

But Algeria insisted it would not negotiate with "terrorists".

The International Energy Agency said the hostage-taking "cast a dark cloud over the outlook for the country's energy sector" as the jihadist splinter group which claimed the operation promised on Friday to stage more attacks.

"Taking into account the suffering of the Algerian people, we promise the regime in place that there will be more operations," a spokesman for the "Signatories in Blood" group told Mauritanian news agency ANI.

The hostage drama dragged Algiers and Western powers into the Mali conflict, taking the spotlight off French and government troops battling the Islamists in control of the country's vast desert north.

The Malian army has retaken the central of Konna, which had fallen to Islamists advancing from the north and sparked French military intervention, the military and a regional security source said on Friday.

On Thursday, more French troops poured into Mali, boosting their number to 1,400, Paris said. At full strength the force will reach 2,500 soldiers.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he would attend an emergency summit of the west African bloc ECOWAS on Saturday to help accelerate the deployment of an African military force in Mali.  - with reports from Jojo Malig and Maria Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBNnews.com; ANC; Reuters; Agence France-Presse