Algeria hostage Belfast man Stephen McFaul is free

Stephen McFaul Stephen McFaul phoned his family to tell them he was free

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A Belfast man who was held hostage at a BP facility in Algeria for two days has been freed and has spoken to his wife on the telephone.

Stephen McFaul, 36, who was travelling on an Irish passport, was being held along with other foreign nationals.

It has now emerged he escaped from his captors after the jeep in which he was being carried crashed.

Mr McFaul's 13-year-old son Dylan has said he could not wait to give his father "a big hug".

Brian McFaul said his brother phoned his wife Angela as soon as he was released to tell her he was safe and had been taken to a secure location.

"A safe camp, he called it," said Mr McFaul.

"Angela said when she was talking to him he said he was fine, he was OK, he was safe and unharmed.

Freedom

"In the past 48 hours, the whole family has just pulled together, both sides of it.

"You were constantly watching news and hoping that the next news you get is going to be good news.

"Then when we heard earlier on there was a large number of the hostages killed, and there was no mention of the Irish citizen being alive, then we were sort of expecting the worst. "

Mr McFaul said they had learned of his brother's freedom when his wife called.

"She said: 'Stephen's free, he's going to phone the house here, now'.

"At this stage we don't know how he gained his freedom, whether he was let go or he escaped."

Natasha Sayee reports for BBC Newsline

He said Stephen's 13-year-old son Dylan was sitting with them throughout.

"He found it hard to sleep and was worrying. The poor child went through a lot for somebody his age for the past 48 hours.

Brian McFaul said it had been a terrible ordeal for his mother and father.

"They had been putting on a brave face for the rest of us.

"It has been hard for us all, not knowing from one moment to the next whether he was still alive or not."

Mr McFaul said the family had received support from the Irish government's Foreign Affairs Department and Sinn Fein's Paul Maskey.

He said Stephen, in his first call, to another brother, had wanted the Algerian army to pull back and stop firing on the camp.

"He said Al Qaeda were treating them well, they were unharmed. He said he was allowed to speak freely. They listed demands, they wanted publicity and they wanted the Algerian army to move away from the base and nobody would come to any harm.

"We had heard (earlier) that there were 34 or 35 dead and we were worried that Stephen was among them."

Mr McFaul said the family would now wait beside the telephone to wait for Stephen's next call.

Stephen McFaul had managed to contact his relatives twice before while in captivity.

But after receiving no further contact since Wednesday, his family made a plea for him to be released unharmed.

In a statement, issued through West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, they said they were very concerned about his welfare.

'Relieved'

But two and a half hours later, he made contact with them to say he was free.

Mr Maskey tweeted after a visit to the McFaul family home.

"Brilliant news on his release. Family delighted," his message read.

The Irish Republic's deputy prime minister said: "I am extremely thankful and relieved to learn that the Irish national who was a hostage in Algeria has made contact with his family and is safe.

"I spoke with his family yesterday, and I know how relieved they will be that he is well after his ordeal.

"This is the news that we all wanted to hear. At the same time, my thoughts are with the other oil-field workers who are caught up in this terrible situation and with their families who are also waiting for news at this difficult time.

"We continue to liaise with the Algerian authorities and with the authorities of the other countries affected by this incident."

Four foreign hostages were freed in an Algerian military operation but there were a number of "victims", the official Algerian APS news agency said.

Algerian soldiers had been surrounding the facility near In Amenas that Islamic militants occupied on Wednesday, after killing a Briton and an Algerian.

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