At least seven Japanese and six Filipinos died during the four-day hostage crisis at an Algerian gas plant, it emerged yesterday, as survivors returned to Asia recalling their horrific ordeal.
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmakek Sellal said a total of 37 foreign workers died and seven were still missing after the attack, co-ordinated by a Canadian.
Sellal also said 29 Islamists were killed in the siege, which Algerian forces ended by storming the plant, and three militants had been captured alive.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a government crisis task force that he was "speechless" about the deaths of innocent people, adding that three citizens were missing.
"The use of force by terrorists against innocent citizens is totally unforgivable. We strongly condemn it," he said.
The Philippine government said four of its nationals were still missing after the attack.
A Japanese survivor said he was sure he would die after seeing two colleagues shot dead, a newspaper reported yesterday.
In a chilling account in the Daily Yomiuri, the hostage told colleagues that he had been aboard a bus when it was attacked by gunmen. As the driver tried to flee, a wheel snapped off, forcing passengers to seek refuge at the lodging house.
The man barricaded himself in his room and cowered with the lights off. A little later, the door splintered open as militants shot the lock apart and burst in, plucking him from his hiding place and clamping handcuffs on him.
He was frogmarched to a bright room with other foreign hostages. The next thing he knew, someone opened fire and two people slumped to the floor dead in front of him.
"I was prepared to die," JGC spokesman Takeshi Endo quoted the employee as saying.
He and a Filipino colleague were then being driven off towards the In Amenas gas plant when the vehicle was suddenly sprayed with bullets. As their captors abandoned the vehicle, the prisoners were left alone, not knowing who had opened fire. After nightfall, when the shooting had stopped the Japanese man began trudging through the desert, walking for an hour before he came across Algerian soldiers.
A Filipino survivor told how militants used foreign hostages as human shields to stop military helicopters from strafing them with gunfire. Joseph Balmaceda said he saw a Japanese hostage draped with explosives, while he and others had their hands bound with cable ties at the plant.
"Whenever government troops tried to use a helicopter to shoot at the enemy, we were used as human shields," a clearly stressed Balmaceda said shortly after arriving back in Manila. "We were told to raise our hands. The government forces could not shoot at them as long as we were held hostage."
Balmaceda, nursing cuts to his face and a loss of hearing, said he was the only survivor out of nine aboard a van that exploded, apparently from explosives that were rigged to the car.
"I crawled about 300 metres to where the government forces were," he said. "And when I reached them, I fainted. When I woke up, I was in the hospital."
Balmaceda said he was overjoyed to be back in the Philippines and with his family.
"I am very, very happy. I prayed to be reunited with them. I couldn't die because I have four kids to take care of," he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters
Provisional information provides the following breakdown of casualties, country by country.
ALGERIA One Algerian died Wednesday during the attack by the Islamists just before the hostage-taking. The Algerian army freed 685 Algerian employees, according to Algiers.
BELGIUM A spokesman of the hostage-takers said on Thursday that three Belgians were at the site following the Algerian raid.
BRITAIN Three Britons are dead, and another three British expats and one British resident are believed to be dead, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Sunday. Another 22 Britons who survived are being repatriated.
COLOMBIA One Colombian BP employee is believed to be among the hostages killed, President Juan Manuel Santos said.
FRANCE The foreign ministry said on Friday that a Frenchman, Yann Desjeux – a restaurateur from southeastern France and a former special forces soldier –was among the dead. Three other French nationals have been rescued. The defence ministry said on Saturday that no more French hostages remained in Algeria.
JAPAN Seventeen Japanese nationals were at the plant at the time of the attack. A Japanese government source said the Algerian government had informed Tokyo that nine Japanese had been killed, the biggest toll so far among foreigners at the plant. Tokyo had said it had no confirmation of the fate its nationals who remain unaccounted for.
MALAYSIA Officials in Kuala Lumpur said two Malaysians are missing.
NORWAY Five Norwegian nationals remain unaccounted for, according to the oil group Statoil, which runs the In Amenas site along with BP and Algerian group Sonatrach. Statoil had 17 employees at the site when the hostage-taking occurred. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said it was “possible” Norwegians may have died.
PHILIPPINES Fifty-two Filipinos caught up in the crisis are accounted for, and 39 Filipino survivors of the siege returned home on Sunday. Manila said six Filipinos had died and four others were confirmed as missing.
ROMANIA One Romanian was killed and a second who was wounded during the hostagetaking died of his injuries in hospital, Bucharest said on Sunday. It said earlier three Romanians had been freed.
UNITED STATES The State Department on Friday confirmed one American, Frederick Buttaccio, died in the hostage crisis. NBC News reported earlier that one American had been killed, two others had escaped unharmed and that the fates of another two Americans were unknown. Citing sources close to the Islamists, Mauritania’s ANI news agency said on Thursday that two Americans were being held by their abductors.