A disgruntled Algerian worker at a north African gas plant where seven British hostages were killed during a four-day siege had apparently threatened management with “bloodshed” the night before the attack, an inquest heard.
Months before the attack there had been a series of labour disputes with local workers at the In Amenas site, located deep in the Algerian desert, jointly run by BP, the Norwegian state oil company Statoil and the Algerian government-owned Sonatrach.
Jihadists led by the al-Qaeda linked terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar stormed the facility in January 2013. Six Britons and a UK-based Colombian were among 40 hostages killed during a four-day stand-off.
Giving evidence at the Royal Courts of Justice in London yesterday, the facility’s deputy general manager Mark Cobb was asked about a meeting on the night before the attacks between management and representatives of Algerian drivers who had opted to strike at the site.
Bridget Dolan, counsel to the coroner, put to him claims that a translator had overheard one of the drivers’ representatives say: “You have made your law but tomorrow when you wake up you will have a surprise and there will be bloodshed.”
Mr Cobb replied: “No one translated that for me, nobody told me that comment had been made. If I had been made aware of that I would have been extremely worried.”
Early the following morning a group of over 30 terrorists armed with AK47-style machine guns, sniper rifles and explosives stormed the facility and took employees hostage in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks by Islamic militants in recent years.
Carson Bilsland and Kenneth Whiteside, both from Scotland; Sebastian John, from the East Midlands; Stephen Green, from Hampshire; Paul Morgan and Garry Barlow, both from Liverpool, and Carlos Estrada, originally from Colombia but who lived in London, were killed during the attack. Some 29 of the hostage-takers died, while three were captured by Algerian troops during a special forces mission.
Mr Cobb said yesterday that the dispute with the drivers had seemingly been resolved when he left Algeria to return to his native US for the Christmas holidays, but flared up again while he away.
“When I left I said the New Year was going to be a new year for In Amenas,” he told the court. He also explained that the area was located is inside a “ring of steel” controlled by the Algerian military and that the plant had its own dedicated group of around 160 armed gendarmes in charge of security. Mr Bilsland, a 46-year-old inspection engineer, had written to his family complaining about security on the complex, the inquest heard yesterday. “The job is fine but security is not good and not safe compared to other places I’ve worked,” he was said to have written.
Post-mortem examinations in the UK found that Mr Barlow, Mr Whiteside and Mr Bilsland all died from injuries caused by an explosion. Mr John died from a blunt injury to the head, Mr Morgan was killed by a gunshot wound to the head and Mr Green died from a gunshot wound to the chest. Mr Estrada died from injuries caused by an explosion and multiple gunshot wounds, the court heard earlier. The inquest continues.Reuse content