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Witnesses recall great confusion

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Even after sprinting 200 meters to safety through a broken fence at the natural-gas facility seized by terrorists, an Algerian engineer who gave his name to “Le Soir d'Algerie” newspaper as A. Tahar underwent several searches and identity checks before security forces allowed him to join a group of 400 who had already escaped or been rescued.

The precautions of the Algerian forces underscored the confusion at the 100-acre In Amenas plant for four days after it was attacked by terrorists. While 23 hostages died and others lived through terrifying moments, others were able to hide or were left free to wander through the sprawling facility.

“Abductors were wearing a military uniform and masks” one of the Algerian hostages who was freed said in a video interview broadcasted on al Arabiya. “Foreign hostages were being forced to wear suicide belts.”

The standoff in Algeria's southeastern desert came to an end yesterday when Algerian special forces stormed the final 11 militants who had holed up with seven hostages in a corner of the plant. All were killed.

In total, 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners were rescued or escaped, Algeria's Ministry of Interior said yesterday in a statement carried on the state-run APS news service. All 32 terrorists were killed, it said.

One foreign hostage, Alexandre Berceaux, a catering worker from France, stayed hidden in his room for 40 hours, fed and protected by Algerian co-workers. “I was under the bed and put planks all over the place just in case,” he told Europe1 radio.

Berceaux was rescued by the Algerian army.

Another Frenchman wasn't so lucky. Yann Desjeux, who also worked in catering, was killed in undetermined circumstances, the French Foreign Ministry said. President Francois Hollande said yesterday that he called his family to offer his condolences. Algerian newspaper El Watan said he was a former French commando who worked for a security company.

The United States took custody of the remains of an American, Frederick Buttaccio of Katy, Texas, who was found dead at the complex, said a U.S. official who wasn't authorized to speak on the record. Buttaccio's death was confirmed Jan. 18 by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who said in a statement that “out of respect for the family's privacy, we have no further comment.”

Of the 23 hostages in total who died, six probably were Britons, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday. Five were probably Norwegian employees of Statoil ASA, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday at a briefing in Oslo.

The Algerian government began its rescue operation at the plant operated by Statoil, London-based BP Plc and Algeria's Sonatrach on Jan. 17 without coordinating with foreign governments, which had urged caution to safeguard the lives of the hostages, according to U.S. and other officials who weren't authorized to be identified.

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