British hostage held by al-Qaeda in Algeria was shot by troops in failed rescue bid

An inquest into the In Amenas siege at a gas plant in Algeria will raise serious doubts over the safety of staff at the facility, part run by BP

By Robert Mendick, Adrian Gatton and Mark Olden, The Telegraph, 14 september 2014

At least one British hostage was killed by the Algerian military as it fought with al-Qaeda terrorists who had taken control of a gas plant in the Sahara desert, an inquest will hear this week.

The inquest into the massacre at the In Amenas facility, which begins on Monday, will raise serious questions over Algeria’s handling of the hostage crisis. Seven British residents were killed during a four-day siege along with more than 30 other foreign hostages.

The men were taken hostage when jihadists, led by the al-Qaeda linked terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar stormed the facility in January 2013. The incident was deeply embarrassing to the Algerian government because the plant was in a militariesd zone that should have been protected by the army.

The inquest will also raise serious questions about security inside the camp which was run in a joint venture by BP, the Norwegian state oil company Statoil and the Algerian government owned Sonatrach.

The inquest will hear that at least one of the British victims - Stephen Green, 47, from Fleet in Hampshire - was killed by the Algerian military rather by the terrorists.

Mr Green had been captured by the terrorists and was travelling in a four-wheeled drive car when he was shot and killed. Mr Green was sat between two terrorists in the front of the vehicle. He was killed by either an Algerian sniper of a helicopter which strafed the vehicle, according to eyewitness accounts.

Katie Gollop, the barrister acting for Mr Green’s family, said: “It looks like he [Stephen] was killed by an Algerian bullet.”

Algeria has provided a series of documents to the hearing although those docuemnts have not yet been seen by lawyers for the families of victims.

The British security services have also provided evidence to the inquest, leading last week to the removal of the Penelope Schofield, the original coroner due to hear the case. She was replaced at the last minute with Judge Nicholas Hilliard, who has security clearance to read sensitive material.

A security source told The Telegraph that he believed the Algerians had tampered with evidence on the ground to cover up the number of hostages killed by Algerians rather than terrorists. The source said: “The Algerians were shooting indiscriminately. Their mentality is to cover that up.”

The source said that he had been told - although he had no direct proof of it - that the Algerian military having stormed the gas plant on the final day of the siege had 're-shot’ dead bodies using the terrorists' weapons to conceal the number of deaths caused by the military rather than the kidnappers. There is no evidence that the cover-up, if true,affected any of the British deaths.

Algerian authorities are not expected to be present in person to give evidence at the inquest held at the High Court. Evidence from two terrorists captured and awaiting trial in Algeria is also unavailable. The jihadists would be able to shed light on the actions of the Algerian military and might also have knowledge of how the terrorists were able to breach security in a region supposedly controlled by the Algerian military.

BP’s role in the tragedy will also come under the spotlight at the inquest. The widow of the most senior BP executive to die in the massacre accused the company of failing to dislcose what it knew about the attack.

The oil company is likely to face a series of multi-million pound law suits amid allegations not enough was done by the joint venture which ran the gas plant to make it secure.

Claudia Gaviria said the death of her husband Carlos Estrada Valencia had devastated her and their two young daughters, who live in Chelsea in west London. Mr Estrada Valencia, 44, who was born in Colombia, was a senior vice-president at BP.

His widow told The Telegraph: “I feel incredibly sad and confused as to why no-one from BP has taken the time to speak to me and tell how and why Carlos died. I’ve seen a report detailing an investigation from Statoil [the Norwegian partner in the project], but I have still not seen, or been told about, any such report from BP.

“I have had to wait for nearly two years before I can start to get some answers and to make sense of what happened at In Amenas in January 2013. Although I am apprehensive about the inquest, it is my only opportunity to find out what happened to Carlos and the circumstances in which he died.

“I have had to put all of my faith into the Coroner and hope that the inquest provides me with the answers I need so that me and my family can finally start the grieving process, and also, so that when my daughters are old enough I can sit them down and tell them the truth about what happened to their dad.

“We are still devastated every day when we think about Carlos.”

Clive Garner, the family’s lawyer and head of International Personal Injury at Irwin Mitchell solicitors, said: “There are many questions for BP including what was known about the risk of an attack at around this time and why security precautions failed to protect staff working at the plant.

“It is now more than 18 months since Mr Estrada Valencia died and his family still do not know exactly what happened to him or how this tragedy occurred.”

Fraser Whitehead, a partner at Slater & Gordon lawyers representing four of the dead and a number of survivors, said: “Litigation is inevitable in my view. There is no doubt we will be taking legal action against those who are identified as culpable for the security failures. The question that has to be answered is who was in charge of security. There is a lot of evidence that BP had every day responsibility for on site security.”

Last week, BP said it had no comment to make ahead of the inquest.

 
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