TOKYO, Jan 21 – A Japanese hostage who narrowly survived the armed attack on an Algerian gas plant said he was sure he would die after seeing two colleagues shot dead in front of him, a report said Monday.
The unnamed man described how Islamist gunmen had dragged him from his barricaded room, handcuffed him and executed two hostages standing nearby, as an Algerian survivor told of explosives strapped to bound captives.
In a chilling account of his escape, published Monday in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper, the Japanese hostage told colleagues he had been on a bus when it was attacked by a group of heavily-armed militants in the Sahara desert early Wednesday.
Seven Japanese are known to have survived the three-day assault, which ended in a bloodbath on Saturday — all of them connected to Japanese plant builder JGC.
The man said he was leaving a lodging house with other foreign workers in a convoy of buses when militants first swooped, according to JGC spokesman Takeshi Endo.
As the vehicle in front was hit by a hail of bullets, the driver of his bus slammed the vehicle into reverse and tried to flee.
But a wheel snapped off, stranding the bus and forcing passengers to run through the desert and seek refuge at the workers’ formerly-secure lodging house.
The man barricaded himself in his room and cowered with the lights off, as gunmen began their rampage through the compound.
But a short time later the door splintered open as militants shot the lock apart and burst in, plucking the frightened man from his hiding place and clamping handcuffs on him.
He was frogmarched to a bright room with other foreign hostages where his captors began speaking Arabic with some of his Algerian colleagues.
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,” Endo quoted the employee as saying.
The bodies of other foreigners lay on the ground as he and a Filipino colleague were bundled into a vehicle and driven off towards the gas plant.
Without warning the vehicle was sprayed with bullets, which pierced the windshield and forced the prisoners to duck down as low as possible to avoid being shot.
As their captors abandoned the vehicle the prisoners were left alone, not knowing who had opened fire.
In the hours that followed the Japanese survivor hid under a truck, trying to stay away from the gun battle that raged around him. As bullets flew past he saw a bus full of hostages — some wearing JGC uniforms — drive past.
He watched with horror as the vehicle came under attack, but said he had no idea of the fate of those on board.
After nightfall, when the shooting had stopped he began trudging through the desert, walking for an hour before he came across Algerian soldiers and safety.
Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported it had spoken to an Algerian man who was taken hostage with about 20 foreign nationals, including six Japanese.
He said the foreigners were forced to link arms and then had their wrists and ankles bound with plastic ties, effectively forming a human chain.
The militants then wrapped explosives around their captives’ bodies.
He said hostages were allowed to use the lavatory and were offered food, but none of the Japanese accepted because they were too scared.
The 45-year-old said he had made his escape on Thursday when the Algerian military staged its first assault.
He said he and other Algerians had run in the confusion, but the foreigners could not get away.
“I don’t know what happened to them afterwards. I hope they survived,” he was quoted by the Mainichi as saying.
JGC, which has 78 employees in Algeria, said Monday morning 17 of its employees who were at the plant are still unaccounted for — 10 Japanese and seven others.
Witnesses have said nine Japanese people were killed in the 72-hour ordeal.
JGC spokesman Takeshi Endo told reporters in Japan that employees who were in the plant at the time of the siege but managed to escape before being taken hostage would help to identify anyone in the hospital.
“We were cautious about asking them to do this tough job, but they agreed to do it and as they were working closely with the colleagues who are still missing, it will surely be helpful,” Endo said.