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Fears grow for Irish hostage in oil siege

FEARS for the safety of an Irishman being held hostage by Islamist militants were growing today as Alergerian forces surrounded a gas plant where 41 foreigners were kidnapped.

The fact that the the 36-year-old carries an Irish passport may act in his favour, a security firm chief said today.

However given the reputation of the gang behind the kidnap, there are real fears for the safety of those being held.

The kidnappers -- led by infamous one-eyed Islamic terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar -- are well armed and have forced some hostages to wear explosive belts, French reports said today.

The married employee of petroleum giant BP is among a group of foreign oil workers taken prisoner by al-Qa'ida- linked militants in a remote area of Algeria yesterday.

Algerian security officials said two people, one a Briton, were killed in the attack on the natural gas facility at In Amenas, some 800 miles south of the capital, Algiers.

The West Belfast man is not believed to have been injured during the dawn raid in the highly volatile region.

His older brother said the safety of those abducted was paramount.

"We first heard about what had happened at 5am so it has been an extremely tense and difficult day for our family," the 42-year-old told the Belfast Telegraph, who did not name him for security reasons.

"We are very concerned about the situation and it's hard to know what is going on, apart from the fact that (Algerian) troops are trying to get the people out," he said.

Cathal O'Neill, chief executive of Risk Management International, said it was "an extremely dangerous" situation.

He would "like to think" that the hostage's Irish passport would make a difference, he told RTE this morning.

Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has called for his immediate release.

"The Government stands ready to use all the resources available to us to ensure that our citizen is released as soon as possible," he said.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the situation at a meeting in Brussels today.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed one Briton had been killed and "a number" of others were being held hostage.