Escaped Algerian hostage witnessed dead French boss

ALGIERS Fri Jan 18, 2013 11:02am EST

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ALGIERS (Reuters) - Azedine, 27, the radio operator at Algeria's In Amenas' gas plant, is still in shock after escaping from his armed Islamist captors on Wednesday, unable to shake the face of his dead supervisor from his mind's eye.

As the young Algerian escaped from the desert complex, which was over-run on Wednesday by al-Qaeda-linked militants in retaliation for French military action against Islamist rebels in neighboring Mali, he saw the body of his French supervisor and one of the militants putting on his badge.

"My supervisor was a great man; I learned a lot from him. He had been shot, but I did not see the execution. All I saw was his body when I ran with some colleagues to leave the base," Azedine told Reuters.

Dozens of hostages remain captive on Friday even after Algerian forces stormed the base on Thursday, freeing hundreds. Thirty hostages, including several Westerners, were killed during Thursday's assault, a security source said, along with at least 18 of their captors.

"The attack had been launched on Wednesday at 0545," Azedine said. I remember because as a radio operator I was in contact with the bus that was about to leave the base to drive several expats to the airport. A few seconds after the bus left, I heard shootings, a lot of shootings, and then nothing.

"The group entered into the base right after the attack against the bus. The power was cut off. They were talking in Arabic, but I did not understand what they were saying. They were not Algerians, I thought.

"I stayed in my office. I was concerned because they would have certainly seized my equipment and my Thuraya (satellite phone). I stayed silent a couple of hours waiting for the light of day. I saw the terrorists; some were clean, others were dirty, some with beards, others without, and among them a French national with sunglasses. He looked European.

"Colleagues came to me, and we contacted the army people and then we managed to run away. We are very lucky, but the face of my French supervisor is still before my eyes." (Reporting By Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Will Waterman)

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