01/22/2013, 00.00
ALGERIA - ISLAM
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Hostages draped with explosives, used as human shields, killed without reason

The official death toll now stands at 38 hostages (37 foreigners) and 29 terrorists killed. Two of the terrorists were Canadian, one of them coordinated the attack. "I couldn't die because I have four kids to take care of," a Filipino survivor said. A power struggle within the terrorist camp is one of the reasons for the action.

Algiers (AsiaNews/Agencies)  - As the dust settles, survivors are starting to tell their story, about hostages killed for no apparent reason, used as human shields or draped with explosives in In Amenas. Speaking to the press, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal (pictured) said yesterday afternoon that 38 hostages, all but one foreigners, were killed, along with 29 terrorists. He added however that there may be more since not all foreign workers are accounted for based on foreign embassies' lists.

The largest group of foreign victims at the huge plant were from Japan, nine out of 37 dead, Algerian authorities said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was "speechless" about the loss, adding that three other Japanese nationals were missing.

"The use of force by terrorists against innocent citizens is totally unforgivable. We strongly condemn it," he said.

Six of the dead caome from the Philippines with four still missing, Filipino authorities said.

Officials in Kuala Lumpur said two Malaysians are missing.

From Tokyo and Manila, survivors are telling their story after returning home.

In a chilling account in the Daily Yomiuri, a Japanese hostage said that he was on a bus when it was attacked by gunmen. As the driver tried to drive the vehicle away, a wheel snapped off, forcing passengers to seek refuge at a lodging house.

The man barricaded himself in his room and cowered with the lights off. A little later, the door splintered open as militants shot the lock apart and burst in, plucking him from his hiding place and clamping handcuffs on him.

He was frogmarched to a bright room with other foreign hostages. The next thing he knew, someone opened fire and two men slumped to the floor dead in front of him.

"I was prepared to die," he was quoted as saying.

He and a Filipino colleague were then being driven off towards the In Amenas gas plant when the vehicle was suddenly sprayed with bullets.

As their captors abandoned the vehicle, the prisoners were left alone, not knowing who had opened fire.

After nightfall, when the shooting had stopped, the Japanese man began trudging through the desert, walking for an hour before he came across Algerian soldiers.

In Manila, Joseph Balmaceda told how militants used a Japanese hostage draped with explosives whilst he and foreign hostages were used as human shields to stop military helicopters from strafing them with gunfire.

Freed by Algerian soldiers, Balmaceda said he was overjoyed to be back in the Philippines and with his family.

"I am very, very happy. I prayed to be reunited with them. I couldn't die because I have four kids to take care of," he said.

Algeria's prime minister said that the 29 terrorists killed (and three captured) came from Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and two from Canada.

One of the Canadians had "co-ordinated" the attack. The group itself was led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar who probably planned the action against the gas plant in reaction to his exclusion from the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb group by the latter's emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel (Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud).

The attack appears to be an attempt by Belmokhtar to show that he could stop gas supplies to the West whilst his former leader could not.

Thus, it is as much a consequence of a power struggle within the terrorist group as it is an attempt to strike at French interests following France's intervention in Mali and punish Algeria for allowing French planes to fly over its territory.

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