Philippine workers recount Algeria hostage drama

Agence France Presse

Published — Saturday 19 January 2013

Last update 19 January 2013 3:47 pm

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MANILA: Foreign workers abducted by Islamist militants in Algeria were garlanded with explosives and put into trucks rigged with bombs, the wife of one of the Philippine captives recounted on Saturday.
Ruben Andrada was just days into his job at a gas plant in the north African desert when he was seized by gunmen avenging what they said was Algiers’ support for French military action in neighboring Mali, his wife said.
“According to him... they draped a bomb on him, like a necklace,” Edelyn Andrada said in an interview aired by Manila radio station DZMM, which said the incident took place during a rescue bid by Algerian forces.
“Luckily, the bomb planted in his vehicle failed to explode. The bombs in the other vehicles went off and so people died,” she added.
She said her husband, whom DZMM said worked as a surveyor for a Japanese company, communicated to her by text message as he recovered at an unspecified hospital where he was being treated for gunshot wounds and cuts.
As reports began to emerge of the terrifying ordeal faced by hostages in Algeria, Jojo Balmaceda, employed by British oil giant BP, told local television in the Philippines how he had escaped the militants.
Balmaceda and three other Filipino workers were taken at gunpoint as they arrived for work, tied up and thrown into a truck along with Japanese and Malaysian hostages, the GMA network reported.
Balmaceda escaped when the truck was hit by an explosion but sustained a gunshot wound to his head that affected his hearing, the station added.
“After that I ran away, fearing that the vehicle would explode. Then I lost consciousness and when I woke up I was already in hospital,” Balmaceda said in a brief telephone interview.
GMA said it interviewed Balmaceda shortly before he was flown to London.
Philippine foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez did not address AFP queries on Andrada and Balmaceda specifically, and Philippine embassy officials in London were unavailable for comment.
Hernandez said 34 Filipino workers had been evacuated from the Algerian gas field and were on their way home to the Philippines, adding that a team had been sent from the Philippines’ embassy in Tripoli to Algeria.
Hernandez did not reply to AFP queries on whether there were other Filipino casualties or hostages.
The Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen, cited by Mauritania’s ANI news agency, said they still held seven foreigners. An Algerian security official put their number at 10.
International criticism of the haste with which Algeria launched a dramatic military assault to rescue those held has been mounting, after an Algerian security official said it had left dead 12 hostages and 18 kidnappers.

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