TERROR IN THE DESERT: FOUR CORNERS
MONDAY 7 OCTOBER, 8.30PM ABC1
January 16th, 2013, was a day like any other at the massive In Amenas Algerian gas production facility in the Saharan Desert. But for the people running the plant, life changed in an instant when al Qaeda terrorists stormed the facility at dawn, opening fire on some and taking foreign workers hostage.
Over four days the hostages found themselves pawns in a game being played out between the terrorists and the Algerian Army. When the shooting finally stopped, around 70 people were dead including 40 of the plant’s workers.
Now survivors tell the harrowing story of the attack; how they were held hostage and how they escaped. They tell how they played cat and mouse with their captors, were forced to wear a necklace of explosives and came under fire from Algerian Army helicopter gunships. The program features unique, previously unseen footage, taken by workers in the plant as the siege unfolded.
Nick Hitch was one person taken prisoner. At the height of the stand-off he was told he would be executed. When that deadline passed he was then bundled into a car with his terrorist captors. As the convoy of cars came under fire one of the al Qaeda group detonated a bomb that tore his vehicle apart. Incredibly, he survived to tell the tale.
Lou Fear, barricaded in his office for three days, twice heard terrorists trying to shoot their way in. He and his wife Lori exchanged texts throughout the ordeal and she feared he would be caught and killed.
Bjarne Våge was ordered at gunpoint to re-start the plant, but when he found his handcuffs had come loose, he made a run for it through the plant fence – chased by armed terrorists.
The terrorists were not the only ones prepared to use deadly force. The Algerian Army, called in to control the situation, took a hardline stance. Army officers refused to negotiate, opening fire on the plant and ignoring the safety of the hostages.
In the wake of this attack related terrorists groups have targeted a shopping mall in Kenya, and more recently they opened fire on sleeping students at an agricultural college in Northern Nigeria. Experts now believe these events indicate that Africa has become the focus for al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups conducting a war against the West and promoting fundamentalist rule in countries across the continent.
TERROR IN THE DESERT, produced by the BBC and presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 7th October 2013 at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 8th October at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm and at ABC iview (abc.net.au/iview).