Homecoming survivors speak of relief, and fear for those left behind in Algeria


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The Independent Online

Two of the workers killed in the terrorist attack on the Algerian natural gas site were employees of a British private security firm responsible for maintaining the safety of the base. One was named yesterday as Yann Desjeux, 52, a former French special forces soldier in overall charge of security at the In Amenas site. The second was a Briton travelling in a coach that was attacked by Islamist fighters as it approached the gates of the gas complex. He had not been named at the time of going to press yesterday.

Both men were employees of Stirling Group, a Macclesfield-based company which provides security and medical services to the oil and gas industry. Stirling's founder, Michael Lord, said: "We have men down or missing. This is a difficult time." Security sources said several other members of the firm were missing, feared dead, after yesterday's final attack.

The full extent of British casualties was still unclear last night, as some survivors arrived back in the UK. Several of the hostages who escaped or were rescued are expected to be reunited with their families today after being debriefed by Foreign Office staff at Gatwick and in London. The majority of those already known to be safe were from Scotland. First Minister Alex Salmond said in a statement that all eight of the hostages who lived in Scotland were safe.

One of them, a father of two, Alan Wright, 37, from Portsoy, Aberdeenshire, said in London: "I'm back with my wife, and looking forward to seeing the rest of my family once I get home, and also thinking of all my friends not yet safe."

David Murray, an oil engineer from Kirkby, Merseyside, also contacted his family to tell them he was alive and being protected by the Algerian Army.

Stephen McFaul, 36, from Belfast, was flown into Gatwick on a specially chartered flight on Friday night. He is said to have escaped the terrorists with a Semtex bomb strapped around his neck. Mark Grant, 29, from Grangemouth, texted his wife, Emma, 31, to let her know he was safe. Iain Strachan, 38, from Howwood, Renfrewshire, was also among those freed. The father of two said he was "very, very relieved to be out". Darren Matthews, 29, from Loftus, North Yorkshire, said: "My heart goes out to the guys that are still there, and hopefully everyone comes home safe, because, at the end of the day, it's only work."

Yesterday, it was reported that both Stirling, the security firm, and BP, which operates on the Algerian gas site, offered assistance to the Algerian authorities at the outset of the attack, but it was firmly rejected.

Mr Lord, a former member of the Parachute Regiment and later the Royal Military Police, said that several of his staff sent repeated text messages from inside the base. "The initial attack lasted for about eight hours. Those who wrote messages said they were alive and in hiding," he said. Their details were later passed on to the Algerian military, he said.

Mr Lord, who now lives in Malta, has provided security and other services to the oil and gas industry in Algeria for almost 20 years after expanding his security firm, Stirling Guards, from his native Manchester. Stirling's security staff at the gas plant were not armed, in accordance with Algerian law. However, people familiar with the plant said it hired local security staff equipped with pump-action shotguns and pistols.