Philippine workers recount Algeria hostage drama

Updated 19 January 2013
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Philippine workers recount Algeria hostage drama

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.


Indonesia investigates reports top Daesh commander killed

Updated 23 min 21 sec ago
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Indonesia investigates reports top Daesh commander killed

  • Online messages from Daesh propagandists say Bahrumsyah, an Indonesian national, died after US air strikes hit Hajjin, north of the Syrian city of Abu Kamal
  • His death, if confirmed, would be a blow to pro-Daesh forces in Southeast Asia

JAKARTA/MANILA: Indonesia is investigating reports from Daesh supporters that the most senior Southeast Asian commander of the militant group was killed by US air strikes in eastern Syria last week, counter-terrorism officials said.
Online messages from Daesh propagandists viewed by Reuters say Bahrumsyah, an Indonesian national, died after US air strikes hit Hajjin, north of the Syrian city of Abu Kamal, last Tuesday.
A spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry, Arrmanatha Nasir, said the embassy in Syria had made enquiries but had yet to confirm Bahrumsyah’s death.
Two senior Indonesian counter-terrorism officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were taking the online reports seriously.
“We are in the process of investigating,” said one senior official with Indonesia’s counter-terrorism agency.
If the reports were true, it would become a “motivation to carry out reprisal attacks” in Indonesia, the senior official said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, said US aircraft were bombing the “general area” in eastern Syria on the day Bahrumsyah is believed to have died but was unable to confirm his death.
As well as leading Katibah Nusantara, an armed unit comprising more than 100 Southeast Asians, Bahrumsyah also organized funding for the Islamist rebels who captured part of the southern Philippines city of Marawi in a bloody siege last year, analysts and officials say.
A message purportedly from the Daesh figure Abu Nuh reviewed by Reuters said Bahrumsyah had been attending a meeting of leaders when he was killed. An Daesh headquarters and a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device factory were destroyed in the attack, the message said.
Another post eulogized the Indonesian, receiving sympathetic comments and crying emojis.
There were reports last year of Bahrumsyah’s death, but analyst Sidney Jones from the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said the latest had a “much higher degree of credibility”.
“As far as we know, he was the highest ranking Indonesian to fight with ISIS. The fact that he commanded a fighting unit that was recognized by ISIS underscores his importance,” said Jones, using an alternative acronym for Daesh.
His death, if confirmed, would be a blow to pro-Daesh forces in Southeast Asia, where fears of hardened fighters returning from Syria as the militants’ self-declared caliphate crumbles has authorities on alert.
More than 600 Indonesians, including at least 166 women and children, traveled to Syria to join Daesh, according to data from Indonesia’s counter-terrorism agency reviewed by Reuters.
A further 482 Indonesians were deported by foreign governments trying to join Daesh.
“I don’t expect a flood of people to come back (to Indonesia), although there will be some people trying,” Jones said.