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Belfast man tells of his harrowing escape from Al-Qaeda extremists

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A Belfast man has told of his incredible escape from a three-day siege by Islamic terrorists in which he was tied to a bomb.

Stephen McFaul tells of how, in January of last year, militants behind The Signatories in Blood Brigade, a group with links to al Qaeda, targeted the remote gas production facility in Amenas, Algeria, where he was working as a supervising electrician.

The bloody three day hostage crisis was believed to have been a revenge assault aimed at the Algerian government, which had allowed France to use its airspace in a military operation against Islamic militants in Mali, reports the Belfast Telegraph.

In a forthcoming Canadian documentary, McFaul recalls, for the first time since the incident, watching friends and colleagues strung together with explosive cord around their necks and tied to dynamite, which was connected to a remote handheld detonator.

That morning, after terrorists stormed the base, they planned to tie up the staff, make bombs and shoot the workforce.

"We are hearing a lot of commotion, gunfire, we're getting a lot of activity outside the accommodation, a lot of Arabic being shouted," he said.

"They kicked in our door, they smashed through the bathroom door. And then they found us hiding in the shower cubicle.

"I was the first one that they took out of the accommodation.

"But just at the door of the accommodation they told me to get on my knees and put my hands behind my head.

"At this point then I thought, 'Yeah that's it. I'm going to be shot here'.

"But then he put me back to my feet again and then forced me to walk in the direction which was towards where the canteen was again.

"It was within the first hour of having us seated at this plaza area they started to produce this cable of some sort, of some description. Then from one end of where the hostages were seated they started to attach it round the neck of the hostages and then looping from one hostage to the next hostage in a sequence going along the line.

"The cable wasn't long enough to reach my neck but it was attached to the person who was seated at my right-hand side, it just stopped short.

"It wasn't wrapped to my neck, but from there then it was attached to a block of explosives, they were referring to it as TNT, and at the other end of this detonator wire they had a sort of hand-held sort of detonating device.

"At this point they instructed us we could use our phones to phone our families, to phone our governments or our companies.

"They wanted us to relay the message they want the military to pull back from the immediate area, they want to have safe passage from the facility to the In Amenas airport, and from there they want to take us, the hostages, to north Mali, which is the area they now control."

In the final hours of the crisis, the increasingly desperate gang drove off with the hostages in a convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles, which came under fire from an Algerian helicopter.

"I didn't know who to be more afraid of. Was it the military or the terrorists? The guy who was holding the detonator for the explosives or the helicopter coming in who was potentially going to fire on us," he said.

McFaul did not believe he would survive.

"I was thinking: 'I hope this is quick. I hope I'm not lying here bleeding to death or anything. I just hope it's quick.'"

He recalls sitting behind his Canadian captor as the terrorist tried to detonate a suicide bomb.

"Our vehicle overturned and came to rest.

"At this point the Canadian terrorist tried to detonate the explosive that he was carrying," he said.

"You heard the fused wire, I guess the hissing noise from whatever he was trying to detonate, and I think it was his detonating wire.

"My thoughts were I need to get as much distance between me and this vehicle as possible and as I was making my escape this helicopter gunship had come round again and I was waving my hands clearly in the air to indicate I was one of the hostages, but they just fired upon me directly.

"So at that point I threw myself on to the ground and everyone of those bullets seemed to miss me as well.

"I started to run and came across the first vehicle. It was just carnage. There was torsos, limbs, there was a head.

"There was just body parts all surrounding the vehicle."

Thirty-nine foreign hostages were killed in the harrowing attack, as well as 29 terrorists.

McFaul says: "I feel very fortunate that I managed to survive; I'm heartbroken that so many of my colleagues didn't."

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