A report by Norwegian-based Statoil reveals new details of the terrifying ordeal of hostages in the terrorist attack last January on an Algerian gas plant – an attack that killed 40 people and that at least two Canadians are accused of helping to execute.
The investigation by Statoil, one of the companies that operated the In Amenas gas plant, reveals that throughout the three-day ordeal, hostages were strapped to improvised explosive devices, made to hold hand grenades, and forced to act as human shields for their captors. The report also offers glimpses into what went wrong for the attackers – including a number of successful escapes, and a blackout that threatened to throw them off their plans.
Among the attackers were Kris Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej of London, Ontario, who both died at the plant. Their friend Aaron Yoon, who had travelled with the pair to Africa, was arrested before the attack and spent 18 months in Mauritanian prison, though he denies involvement with the plot. A fourth London man suspected of being involved, Mujahid "Ryan" Enderi, is still being sought by police.
"An older man, referred to as 'Tahar,' appeared to be leading the group," the report reads, "and a terrorist later identified as Canadian was particularly active in the Base de Vie." It's unclear which Canadian this refers to.
The ordeal began at about 5:40 a.m. on Wednesday, January 16, 2013, when a group of terrorists opened fire on a bus departing from the plant and destined for the airport. The group of terrorists likely hadn't originally planned on attacking the bus, the investigation found, but were likely "caught by surprise" as they moved to execute attacks on the plant itself.
"Inside the bus, people threw themselves to the floor as the bullets struck and penetrated the bus," the report reads.
Meanwhile, employees at the plant found themselves under siege by dozens of armed men who crashed through the gates. Many workers assumed it was a military training exercise until they began seeing their colleagues injured by gunfire, the report says. Some workers ran for cover while others tried to hide, including some who managed to crawl up into the roof space.
"Algerian employees were told they had nothing to fear, as the attackers were only looking for foreigners," witnesses told investigators, and indeed, throughout the next few days, a number of local workers were released.
Despite being tied up and separated into a different room, the foreign workers were allowed to keep their cellphones, and many used them to send text messages to communicate with one another, as well as with the outside world. They were used as hostages as the armed men made phone calls to BP – the other company in charge of operating the In Amenas plant – demanding to speak with the "presidents of your companies," and making a slew of demands, including the release of a number of prisoners held by Algeria and the U.S.
Throughout the ordeal, the armed men were forced to carry out their work in the dark, after the early-morning raid resulted in a power outage. At one point, attackers attempted to upload videos of the hostages online, but were unable to because of the outage.
When they tried to force some of the hostages to restart the plant the hostages refused. One of them, a Statoil employee, "noticed that the cable ties used to tie him were loose...When the Statoil employee was ordered to lie back down, he decided to run. He zigzagged between the many pipes, constructions, valves and vessels in train 3." One of the armed men ran after him, shouting "Stop - you know I will kill you," but eventually gave up.
Others managed escapes also, including a group who managed to climb the fence, and, after spending 15 hours hiding in the desert, find their way to safety.
The next day, witnesses told investigators, the terrorists "seemed more aggressive and agitated than before," and threatened to kill all of the hostages if their demands were not met by noon.
On Thursday morning, the Algerian military executed a helicopter attack on the plant, injuring one of the terror group's leaders. A hostage was handcuffed to him, forced to treat the man's injuries and to act as a human shield. That hostage was later killed.
An attempt later that day to move the hostages from one facility to another in vehicles strapped with improvised explosive devices resulted in another 26 hostage deaths, after military helicopters opened fire on the convoy.
By Thursday afternoon, the military finally had taken control of part of the plant. By Friday afternoon, members of the military seen moving towards the production area – the last area of the plant still occupied by the terrorists.
Soon after, witnesses heard a large explosion "so large it made the ground tremble under their feet." The fire burned for hours, sending thick black smoke into sky, and forcing the last of the victims and attackers out of hiding.