The loved ones of a Renfrewshire man who was taken hostage by Islamist militants in Algeria were yesterday waiting anxiously for news on his fate.
A small number of Scots were among those captured by armed men at the Tigantourine gas plant, deep inside the Sahara Desert, on Wednesday.
And the Paisley Daily Express can reveal that one of the gas workers who was taken hostage is a 38-year-old man from the Paisley area.
The man’s identity is known to the Express but, for security reasons, his details are not being made public.
Last night, there was confusion over the fate of the hostages as Algeria’s state news agency reported that the country had staged a military operation in an attempt to free those who were being held captive.
There were reports that a number of foreign hostages – including two from Scotland – were freed but that the operation also resulted in a number of “victims.”
Bosses at BP, which operates the Tigantourine gas field jointly with Algerian state oil company Sonatrach and Norwegian firm Statoil, admitted it was difficult to get an accurate picture of what was happening at the site.
However, they stressed they were doing everything possible to help the hostages and support their distraught families.
Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, said: “Our overriding priority is to do all we can to ensure the safety of our staff and to support their families during this anguishing time.
“All our efforts are focused on supporting the authorities to secure a peaceful resolution of the situation and the safe return of our colleagues and all other workers being detained.”
Militants occupied the Tigantourine gas complex – about 25 miles south-west of In Amenas, which is close to the Libyan border – two days ago after killing a British citizen and an Algerian.
They claimed to have 41 hostages, including British, French, American, Japanese and Norwegian nationals.
The kidnappers were said to be Algerian and operating under orders from Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was a senior commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb until late last year.
One statement purported to be from the hostage-takers called for an end to the French military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighbouring Mali.
Reports from the area yesterday claimed that the Algerian military had targeted two vehicles as they tried to escape from the site with an unknown number of people on board.
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal called his UK counterpart David Cameron to say the operation was under way at 11.30am yesterday.
Mr Cameron chaired two meetings of Cobra – the government’s emergency committee – yesterday and another meeting was being scheduled for this morning.
The hostage crisis was also discussed at the Scottish Parliament yesterday.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Alex Salmond told MSPs: “The chamber will know that a terrorist group has seized BP’s Statoil facility in the Algerian Sahara.
“Citizens of a number of nationalities are involved, including UK citizens. I can confirm to the chamber a number of Scots are among the hostages.”
Mr Salmond said that information was being limited “in the interests of the safety and security of the hostages.”
He added: “The priority is their safety and, of course, to keep families informed. This is a hugely-serious situation and I know that the whole chamber is united, both in condemnation of the attack and also in hoping for the early and safe release of the hostages.”
The Algerian crisis echoes the situation faced by Erskine man James Coyle last year after he was left stranded with 300 other people in a Libyan desert camp as armed looters took advantage of the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi. Mr Coyle eventually made it out of Libya in a convey of coaches to the Egyptian border.