THE final hostages to die in the terrorist attack on the BP joint-operated gas plant in Algeria were strapped to machinery as a huge bomb was detonated, managers at the plant have said.
As Western media visited the plant at In Amenas for the first time, detailed accounts were provided of the terrifying end met by a group of eight to 10 expatriate workers.
Lufti Benadouda, the Algerian general manager of the site, recounted how there was a major explosion on the night of Thursday, January 17 at the central production facility, where the hostage-takers, who arrived in two groups, had gathered for a final stand.
Mr Benadouda said Western hostages had been tied to the gas construction complex, some at ground level, some a bit higher up, while the terrorists built a bomb in one of their vehicles. Many of the hostage takers had been wearing suicide vests.
"There was one big explosion and we saw the fire burning all night," said Mr Benadouda. "We found the hostages had been tied to the structure and put close to each other. Some were on the ground near the car, some were up a bit.
"The terrorists wanted a big explosion. They wanted to destroy the plant and make a big impression. They didn't destroy the plant. The next day we arrived at the plant. It was my job to identify the bodies of my colleagues, but I could not, except one, an American."
Among the dead were a Norwegian, and, he thinks, a Briton. He said he saw the remains of three terrorists that suggested they had detonated suicide vests. Yesterday, evidence of the carnage remained on view, with parts of the infrastructure at the plant showing signs of considerable blast damage.
Calling themselves the Signatories in Blood Battalion, the attackers appeared out of the desert at dawn on Wednesday, January 16. Mr Benadouda was quickly identified by terrorists who stormed through the gates of the accommodation compound as a senior figure and was used to relay messages to Algerian forces.
Having missed the initial attack, the army quickly encircled the facility, which sprawls over 37 acres, is surrounded by scrub and sand and is circled by a 12-foot barbed-wire fence.
At first, Mr Benadouda said, the terrorists' mood was "quite calm" but they soon demanded that the plant be restarted. It had been closed after a security guard sounded the alarm. Moments later he was shot in the head.
"After some time they realised they were not getting out alive, and they wanted to blow up the plant. They asked me to start it again, but I said it was too difficult." His defiance may have saved the plant from much greater destruction.
Expatriates have yet to return, but 120 Algerians, seen yesterday on the site in hard hats and blue overalls, are preparing for the day when the plant, which BP runs with Norway's Statoil and Algeria's Sonatrach, can resume producing gas with a daily average output worth $14m (€10.3m).
The attack, which claimed the lives of 38 foreign workers, has stunned Algeria, which thought it had contained the internal threat posed by al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Instead, it now finds itself on a new front line of the war on terrorism that spreads west to Mali, where the French intervened to quell an Islamist advance, south to Niger and east to Libya, where the weapons for the attack were procured. It is also believed the assailants, allegedly led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, came across the table-top flat terrain from Libya, which is 35 miles away as the crow flies.
The assault on the plant jointly operated by a British flagship company prompted a hurried visit by UK prime minister David Cameron this week, where he called for a "strong, strategic partnership" between Britain and Algeria. (©Daily Telegraph, London)