Irishman freed in Algeria hostage crisis

Wednesday 23 January 2013 12.30
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Stephen McFaul rang his wife and family this afternoon to say he was safe
Stephen McFaul rang his wife and family this afternoon to say he was safe
The natural gas complex is now surrounded by Algerian troops
The natural gas complex is now surrounded by Algerian troops

The Irishman who was being held hostage at a gas facility in eastern Algeria has been freed.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said that Stephen McFaul contacted his wife and Irish diplomats this afternoon to say he was safe and well.

Mr McFaul indicated he was in another part of the complex to the one attacked by Algerian forces earlier today.

The 36-year-old, who works a Scandinavian oil company, was born in Belfast and lives in Antrim.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said: "I am extremely thankful and relieved to learn that the Irish national who was a hostage in Algeria has made contact with his family and is safe.

"I spoke with his family yesterday, and I know how relieved they will be that he is well after his ordeal. This is the news that we all wanted to hear.

"At the same time, my thoughts are with the other oil-field workers who are caught up in this terrible situation and with their families who are also waiting for news at this difficult time."

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jnr said he had been informed by the UK government that one of the hostages still being held was from his North Antrim constituency.

However, Mr Gilmore has said there was no other person from Northern Ireland involved.

There were reports earlier from a Mauritanian news agency that 34 hostages were killed in air strikes by the Algerian military.

ANI news agency, which has been in constant contact with the militants, also said 14 kidnappers had been killed in the air strikes.

A kidnapper told ANI that seven hostages are still being held.

He said they were three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and one British citizen.

A local source has told Reuters that 180 Algerian hostages managed to escape, while some are still being held.

Reuters also reported that a local source had said six foreign hostages and eight of their captors were killed by a military strike on a vehicle being used by the kidnappers.

Algeria's state news agency APS has said that the military operation to free hostages at the facility had now ended, quoting an unnamed official source who gave no further details.

Governments around the world have been holding emergency meetings to respond to the situation.

A group calling itself the "Battalion of Blood" claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The attackers demanded an end to the French military campaign in Mali, where hundreds of French paratroopers and marines are launching a ground offensive against rebels a week after France began firing on militants from the air.

Keywords: algeria, hostages