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Home after cheating death in Algeria

By Anthony Neeson

aneeson@irishecho.com

A Belfast man who survived last week's Algerian hostage crisis has returned home to his family.

Stephen McFaul (36) from Andersonstown in the west of the city had explosives strapped to his neck during his captivity when Islamist militants took over the gas plant where he worked in In Amenas.

Releasing a statement through the Police Service of Northern Ireland on Monday night, McFaul said his thoughts were with those who died. Latest figures suggest at least 37 foreign hostages from eight different countries were killed during the four day operation to free those held.

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Mr. McFaul escaped from his captors on the second day of the hostage drama.

His break for freedom happened after Semtex explosives were strapped to the Belfast man and several other hostages, this before they were put in a number of four wheel drive vehicles by their captors.

When this convoy tried to leave the compound Algerian attack helicopters opened fire with guns and rockets.

Mr. McFaul later told his family that four vehicles were hit by the bombardment. His own crashed, allowing him and others to escape.

Brian McFaul said his brother phoned his wife Angela as soon as he was released to tell her he was safe and had been taken to a secure location.

"She said: 'Stephen's free, he's going to phone the house here, now'."

"At this stage we don't know how he gained his freedom, whether he was let go or he escaped."

He said Stephen's 13-year-old son Dylan went through a lot during the hours of his father's captivity.

"He found it hard to sleep and was worrying. The poor child went through a lot for somebody his age for the past 48 hours. It has been hard for us all, not knowing from one moment to the next whether he was still alive or not."

Brian McFaul said the family had received support from the Irish government's Department of Foreign Affairs Department and Sinn Féin West Belfast MP, Paul Maskey.

Tánasite Eamon Gilmore said: "I am extremely thankful and relieved to learn that the Irish national who was a hostage in Algeria has made contact with his family and is safe.

"I spoke with his family yesterday, and I know how relieved they will be that he is well after his ordeal. This is the news that we all wanted to hear. At the same time, my thoughts are with the other oil-field workers who are caught up in this terrible situation and with their families who are also waiting for news at this difficult time.

West Belfast MP, Paul Maskey, said he was delighted that Stephen was free.

"There is huge relief that he is safe and well. He has been very much in the thoughts and prayers of the West Belfast community who will also be delighted with this good news. Our thoughts are with the other hostages' families and especially those that have lost loved ones throughout the whole episode.

"The McFaul family are now looking forward to having him home and want to thank everyone for their support, best wishes and prayers."