Teesside man tells of escape from Algeria desert hostage drama

The Northern Echo: Darren Matthews Darren Matthews

A NORTH-East man, who escaped the clutches of Islamist terrorists after they stormed an Algerian oil plant, says he will not feel completely safe until he is reunited his family.

Darren Matthews, 29 and from Loftus, in East Cleveland, was among of group of oil workers who managed to flee the In Anemas plant in the Sahara Desert.

Mr Matthews, who is understood to work for British Petroleum as an engineer specialising in hazardous area inspections, had been held along with dozens of other foreign workers after militants overran the remote facility on Wednesday.

The Algerians sent in special forces soldiers on Thursday and reports emerged of a 'bloodbath' with a number of militants and hostages among the dead.

It was a move that angered the British Government and led to Prime Minister, David Cameron, cancelling a planned keynote speech in Holland, recalling Foreign Secretary and Richmond MP, William Hague from Australia and convening the emergency committee, Cobra.

Although initial fears that a significant number of Britons were among the casualties seem to have been allayed, it is believed that around 30 foreign nationals are still caught up in the crisis, with ten UK citizens understood to remain at risk.

Mr Matthews, former Teesside University student who also worked for British Oxygen and Corus, was one of 132 overseas workers thought to have been seized at the plant which is jointly owned by BP, Statoil and the Algerian company Sonatrach.

Interviewed by Algerian television while on a coach travelling out of the region and accompanied by relieved colleagues, Mr Matthews said: "I feel safe at the moment but I won't feel 100 per cent happy until I'm back in the UK, until I see my family," he said.

"My heart goes out to the guys that are still there and hopefully everyone comes home safe because, at the end of the day, it's only work, you know. No one should have to go through all this for a job."

Back home in East Cleveland, Mr Matthews' family were not willing to be interviewed, however, a local councillor has spoken of his relief.

Landlord of the Station Hotel in the town, Dave Fitzpatrick, who is also a Redcar and Cleveland Borough councillor, said: "Everybody will be relieved for the family that he has got out safe and well. He went to school with my daughter and everybody in the town knows him and his family.

"We didn't know that he had been in any danger until we found out he had been rescued. It must have been a really difficult time for his family."

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