Background to crisis: Former Norwich pupil had only been in Algeria for a week
16:04 23 January 2013
Former Norfolk student Sebastian John had arrived in Algeria just one week before the attack, leaving behind his wife Nicola and their seven-month-old baby.
Mr John, a civil engineer and structural engineer, had only been working for BP for a year and had been sent to the country on a training course.
However, at 2am on Wednesday, January 16, he was one of dozens of workers taken hostage when heabvily armed gunmen stormed the energy site near In Amenas.
Initially reports were unclear as to who exactly was caught up in the attack and why.
A BP spokesman confirmed a “security incident” at the facility, activated its emergency response system and set up a helpline for relatives.
Later that day, following a 45-minute meeting of Whitehall’s Cobra emergency committee, Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman said he could not confirm that a Briton had died but that “several” UK nationals were involved.
Reports soon emerged that a news agency in the Saharan state of Mauritania was contacted by the militant group Katibat Moulathamine - “The Masked Ones” - with a claim that the attack was carried out by one of its affiliates, identified as “Those who sign their names in blood”.
A spokesman for Katibat tells the Sahara Media Agency that 41 Westerners of nine or 10 nationalities were taken hostage, including seven Americans.
Some 36 hours later BP said armed groups were still on site holding a number of its staff, and described the situation as “unresolved and fragile”.
Over the next few hours reports emerged that a group of foreign nationals, including a French couple, had escaped from their kidnappers, and 30 Algerian workers also managed to flee.
However, more worryingly, fears rise over the fate of the hostages amid reports that many had been killed during fierce fighting.
The Foreign Office claim the Algerian authorities confirmed that an operation was under way at the gas plant deep in the desert at In Amenas where the hostages were being held.
BP , meanwhile, said they had been told the Algerian army is attempting to take control of the site.
Back home, the prime minister said the country should be “prepared for the possibility of further bad news” from the hostage situation.
After the raid, in a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said the number of British citizens at risk in the Algerian terror attack had been “quite significantly reduced”.
He told MPs that he was not pre-warned of the military operation, despite asking his Algerian counterpart to do so, but said he was told the terrorists had tried to flee and the Algerians judged there would be an immediate threat to the hostages’ lives.
However, it has since emrged that a total of 37 foreign workers are believed to have died at the remote desert facility - six of them UK nationals and one of them the former Norwich School pupil.
So far the other Britons have been named as 46-year-old security expert Paul Morgan, systems supervisor Garry Barlow, 49, from Liverpool, 59-year-old planning manager Kenneth Whiteside, from Glenrothes, Fife, and Carson Bilsland, from Perthshire.
Colombian BP executive Carlos Estrada, who lived in London, is also believed to have died.
Algerian officials said the hostage-takers - from six different nationalities - belonged to a new Islamist group formed by a veteran Algerian militant and kidnapper, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who recently broke from al-Qaeda. Did you know Mr John? Would you like to pay tribute to him? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01603 772423.