Philippine hostages fly home after Algerian crisis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2013, 4:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

The Philippines said on Sunday that 52 of its nationals had been accounted for in Algeria following the hostage crisis at a remote gas plant, but it was still not known whether any Filipinos had died.

The Algerian interior ministry said 23 foreigners and Algerians were killed after al-Qaeda-linked gunmen began their attack on the In Amenas gas plant deep in the Sahara Desert on Wednesday.

The Philippines has not confirmed how many of its nationals were working at the plant. But it said on Sunday it had offered consular assistance to 52 Filipinos in Algeria and 39 of those arrived in Manila on Sunday.

“Based on reports from our team in Algeria... we have 52 from Algeria who have been accounted for,” said Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez.

The 39 who returned home on Sunday had been evacuated via London and Dubai and arrived in Manila aboard a commercial jet.

In an initial statement to reporters on Sunday morning, Hernandez described the 39 as “survivors” of the siege.

But after arriving in Manila, the returning Filipinos said nearly all of them had been working far from the hostage site and had only been sent home by their employer due to security fears.

Asked to clarify the situation, Hernandez said he had made his initial comments based on reports from Philippine embassies involved in the repatriations.

“We will ask for more clarification on this. Will keep you posted,” Hernandez said in a text message.

He said earlier that Filipino diplomats in Algeria were continuing to coordinate with authorities and employers to determine the “whereabouts and conditions of other Filipinos working in the gas plant”.

However he said it was not clear if there were any more there, nor whether there were any Filipinos among the dead.

The Algerian interior ministry said 32 kidnappers were also killed during the siege, and special forces were able to free 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners.

On Saturday, the wife of Filipino hostage Ruben Andrada said he told her the militants draped a bomb on his neck “like a necklace”, but he and others were saved when the device aboard their hijacked vehicle failed to explode.

Another Filipino survivor, Jojo Balmaceda, employed by British oil giant BP, told local television in the Philippines how he had escaped after an explosion.

He said he and three other Filipino workers were taken at gunpoint as they arrived for work, tied up and thrown into a truck along with Japanese and Malaysian hostages, the GMA network reported.

Balmaceda escaped when the truck was hit by an explosion but sustained a gunshot wound to his head that affected his hearing, the report said.