Saturday 14 December 2019

Tributes to gas plant siege victims

Handput photo of Carlos Estrada (right), with his wife Claudia Gaviria, the BP executive who was originally from Colombia but lived in London was among 40 hostages who were killed at the In Amenas plant in Algeria during a four-day stand-off last year. PA Wire
Handput photo of Carlos Estrada (right), with his wife Claudia Gaviria, the BP executive who was originally from Colombia but lived in London was among 40 hostages who were killed at the In Amenas plant in Algeria during a four-day stand-off last year. PA Wire

Alex Diaz

Relatives of hostages killed in a terrorist siege at an Algerian gas plant have told an inquest that their pain "does not diminish" with time.

Six Britons and a UK-based Colombian were among 40 hostages killed by al Qaeda-linked Islamists during a four-day stand-off in January 2013 at the In Amenas complex.

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 while working at the BP-run plant.

As an inquest into their deaths opened today at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, they were described as "wholly innocent" victims.

The family of Mr Green, a health and safety executive from Fleet in Hampshire who was 47 when he was killed, said that their lives had been "turned upside down".

His father David said: "Stephen's death has been very hard for us. He had a lot of happiness to look forward to.

"I feel both grief and anger - grief that my son was refused a happy future and anger against those responsible. They are not forgiven or understood."

Mr Green said the family felt the pain of his music fan son's death every day, adding: "It does not diminish with time."

The court heard that Mr Bilsland, an inspection engineer who was 46 and living in Perthshire when he was killed, had written to his family complaining about security on the complex.

"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.

Giving evidence in court, Mr Bilsland's brother Christopher said that in his opinion "monetary gain had been valued over human life".

"We want to know if In Amenas could have been prevented and if the necessary steps were in place," he added.

The court heard that during the attack hostages were "encouraged" to make contact with the outside world, relaying the terrorists' demand that 100 Jihadi prisoners be released in northern Mali.

Mr John, a 26-year-old civil engineer whose UK home was in Nottingham when he died, was singled out by assistant coroner for West Sussex, judge Nicholas Hilliard QC, for his bravery.

Senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent James Stokley told the inquest that the civil engineer had sent emails with pictures of the terrorists to friends and family while he was held hostage.

Interrupting the counter-terrorism officer's evidence, judge Hilliard said: "So Mr Sebastian John had the presence of mind to make and send pictures of his captors, an extremely brave thing to do at considerable risk to himself."

Mr Barlow, a 50-year-old assistant supervisor, was also said to have called his wife three times and asked her to pass a telephone number on to the BBC.

The court heard that the complex had been stormed by some 34 Islamists armed with AK47-type machine guns, telescopic rifles and explosives and dressed in military fatigues.

The first British victim to be killed was Mr Morgan, a 46-year-old security contractor.

He was said to have died during the initial attack on the morning of January 16 2013 as the terrorists assaulted a convoy which was transporting staff who were rotating out of the complex.

The court heard that during the attack Mr Whiteside, a 59-year-old planning engineer who lived in Johannesburg, South Africa, had offered resistance.

He was said to have headbutted one of two terrorists who approached him before he was overpowered and handcuffed.

Once the plant had been overrun, hostages were held together with explosives attached to them.

Many of the victims were last seen alive being placed in terrorist vehicles on the second day of the stand-off, the inquest heard.

Mr Stokley said that at midday on January 17 hostages were grouped together according to nationality and told they were going to be moved as the terrorists anticipated an attack from the Algerian military.

"The terrorists said they had placed bombs in each vehicle which would explode if they were attacked by the military," he said.

The following day witnesses described seeing blown-up vehicles and Mr Barlow's body.

Later in the day a "massive explosion" was heard, the court was told.

The Algerian military's operation was brought to a conclusion on January 19.

Post-mortem examinations carried out in the UK found that Mr Barlow, Mr Whiteside and Mr Bilsland had 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, a 44-year old BP executive who lived in Chelsea, west London, died from injuries caused by an explosion and multiple gun shot wounds, the court heard.

PA Media

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