Lafarge evacuates Syrian plant on security grounds

A logo is seen at a Lafarge concrete production plant in Pantin, outside Paris, April 7, 2014. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

PARIS (Reuters) - French cement maker Lafarge has evacuated its Syrian factory and halted all operations there indefinitely for security reasons, a company spokeswoman said on Thursday.

The cement plant is 160 km (100 miles) northeast of Aleppo, near the Turkish border, an area where the United States has carried out air strikes against Islamic State militants.

Lafarge employs around 250 people in Syria - the majority at the northern plant and the rest in office buildings in the capital Damascus.

The plant was evacuated on Sept. 18 and all operations have been halted until workers’ security can be guaranteed, the spokeswoman said. The factory has the capacity to produce up to 2.6 million tonnes of cement a year.

Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Islamic State took control of the plant five days ago after militants carried out a suicide bomb attack on a Kurdish checkpoint and made their way to the factory.

Lafarge declined to comment on whether the plant, located in Raqqa province, had been besieged by IS militants. A spokeswoman only said “no major damage” appeared to have been incurred to the factory and that the group had asked its workers not to return to the site.

Reporting by Natalie Huet in Paris and Sylvia Westall in Beirut; Editing by Pravin Char