PARIS (Reuters) - French authorities are in contact with two French hostages who have left the desert gas facility in Algeria where they were being held by Islamist militants, France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls said on Friday.
Thirty hostages and at least 11 of their captors were killed on Thursday when Algerian forces stormed the desert gas plant in a bid to free many dozens of captives, an Algerian security source said.
Valls told RTL radio information from the In Amenas site was patchy. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he had been told by his Algerian counterpart in the middle of Friday morning the operation to free the hostages was continuing.
One French hostage, who works for the CIS catering company at the facility, said he hid in a room away from other foreign hostages, arranging planks of wood to conceal his presence, and survived thanks to food brought by Algerian colleagues.
“I stayed hidden for nearly 40 hours in my bedroom, under the bed,” Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio after his release, admitting he had been sure he would end up killed and was still in shock.
“When the military came to get me, I did not know whether it was over,” he added. “They arrived with colleagues (Algerians who worked with him), otherwise I would never have opened the door.”
Berceaux said Algerian soldiers found some British hostages hiding on the roof and were still combing the sprawling gas site for others when he was escorted to a nearby military base, from where he expected to be transferred to France.
“They are still counting them up,” he said.
Regis Arnoux, chief executive of French firm CIS, which employs some 150 Algerian staff at the In Amenas plant, told French radio and TV that all of his employees were safe and the Algerians were in the process of being sent home.
“I had exchanges during the night with the head of my subsidiary in Algeria who told me the 150 Algerians were safe and sound,” he told Europe 1 radio.
He said he had heard that those hostages who managed to escape had disguised themselves to slip past their captors.
Valls said authorities had no information about two other presumed French hostages. “As for the two others, if there were two others, we ... hope to get new information early today.”
The foreign ministry said that, despite regular contact with the Algerian government, things remained very confused, so it would say very little about the situation for the time being.
Valls advised against criticizing Algeria for heavy-handedness and hailed its efforts to end the stand-off, after British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had not been sufficiently informed about Algerian plans for a raid.
Europe 1 radio spoke to a second released hostage, an Algerian, who also said some others had yet to be rescued.
“There are still some hostages there but they will get them out,” he said, adding that he was with a Frenchman and four British men, including one from Scotland who was hurt during the crisis. “I haven’t closed my eyes in more than 48 hours,”
Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur and Catherine Bremer; editing by Philippa Fletcher