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Dublin: 21 °C Thursday 24 July, 2014

Irish hostage released in Algeria amid conflicting reports of casualties

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has welcomed the news that Stephen McFaul has been freed – but confusion remains over the fate of the other hostages.

The Amenas natural gas field in Algeria where the hostages are being held
The Amenas natural gas field in Algeria where the hostages are being held
Image: AP Photo/BP

THE IRISH MAN who was being held hostage at the Amenas gas-field compound in Algeria been freed, the Department of Foreign Affairs has said.

Stephen McFaul from Belfast, who was travelling on an Irish passport, has spoken to his family and is believed to be safe and well.

McFaul was among a number of hostages who were held by Islamists following an attack on a BP gas compound yesterday.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was greatly relieved to hear that McFaul was safe. In a statement this evening, he said:

I would like to pay tribute to all those who have been involved in the effort to resolve this crisis and my thoughts are with the other oil-field workers and their families who have found themselves at the centre of this traumatic situation.

However confusion remains over the current situation at the compound. The complex where Al-Qaeda Islamists have been holding the 41 foreign workers and a large number of Algerian workers  is said to be under seige, with AFP reporting that Algerian helicopters have launched strikes on it.

The Algerian military is believed to be attempting a rescue operation, but unconfirmed reports suggest from local news agencies suggest there has been a large number of casualties.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken to US President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande about the ongoing situation, 10 Downing Street confirmed this evening.

Former AQIM leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar has claimed the attack. The militants said they seized the hostages, who were known to include US, French, British, Irish, Norwegian and Japanese citizens, in retaliation for the French military intervention in northern Mali.

Algerian troops encircled the plant on today, prompting gunmen to demand their withdrawal to allow for negotiations.

They have also demanded the release of some 100 Islamist extremists in Algeria, and want them sent to northern Mali, where French and Malian troops were battling extremists who seized a massive swathe of territory in April 2012.

- Additional reporting by Christine Bohan

Read: Irish hostage: Algeria troops surround Islamist hostage-takers>

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