Lawyers Call For Lessons To Be Learnt From Evidence Heard at Algeria Terrorist Attack Inquest

Inquest Into Deaths of Seven Men Killed At In Amenas Gas Plant Is Adjourned while ‘Sensitive’ Government Material Is Considered


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Expert lawyers representing the family of a London-based man who was killed in a major terrorist attack whilst visiting a gas plant in Algeria, say they hope lessons will be learned from the evidence presented at the Inquest into the deaths of the seven UK residents killed in the attack.

800 hostages were taken and 40 people from 10 different countries were killed by Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria during a four-day siege between 16 and 19 January 2013. 

Over the past seven weeks the Inquest has heard evidence from over 65 witnesses, including family members of the deceased men, hostages, security and intelligence experts, as well as senior executives from BP and Norway’s ‘Statoil’, both of whom co-own the plant as part of a joint venture with Algeria’s ‘Sonatrach’.  Sonatrach, who are the largest oil and gas company in Algeria, chose not to participate in the Inquest.

Specialist International Personal Injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell represent the family of Mr Carlos Estrada Valencia, a Senior Vice President at BP, who was tragically killed in the attack.  Mr Estrada Valencia, a Colombian national who had worked for BP for 18 years before he was killed, had never been to the gas plant before.  He had arrived in Algeria on 14 January 2013 for a meeting with senior executives from JGC Corporation, a Japanese engineering company, to oversee the delivery of a new compression project at the plant. 

The lawyers at Irwin Mitchell say the Inquest has heard evidence which raises serious concerns about the safety and security in place at the plant at the time of the attack, from which they hope lessons can be learned to help reduce the risk of future similar incidents occurring in Algeria and elsewhere across the globe.

Clive Garner, head of the International Personal Injury Team at Irwin Mitchell representing the family of Mr Estrada Valencia said:

Expert Opinion
The past seven weeks have been extremely difficult for the families and friends of the victims of this horrendous attack. The Inquest has, however provided them which much information about the circumstances leading up to the incident and the incident itself as well as the steps taken to avoid an incident of this kind occurring.

"While some important questions for the families still currently remain unanswered, the evidence heard at the Inquest has shed light on a number of significant matters and answered many of the families’ questions about how their loved ones died. It is hoped that the lasting legacy of the Inquest will be that those taken hostage in the attack, including Mr Estrada Valencia, are remembered for their bravery and dignity throughout what must have been a most terrifying ordeal, and that concerns raised about security at the plant are not ignored.

“Throughout this Inquest we have heard a huge amount of evidence from over 65 witnesses, including survivors, experts and those who were responsible for the safety and security of those working at the plant. We sincerely hope that lessons have now been learnt to help reduce the risk of similar incidents in the future.

“We now await the conclusion of the Inquest and the Assistant Coroner’s verdict with great anticipation.”
Clive Garner, Partner

Tributes were paid to the 40 hostages killed during the attack, and several surviving hostages spoke of their admiration for the “bravery and dignity” of the 7 British residents who were killed in the ordeal, recounting in particular how Mr Estrada Valencia shared messages of hope with his fellow hostages and sought to raise the spirits of those around him, despite having a Semtex explosive device strung around his neck by his captors. 

Claudia Gaviria, the widow of Mr Estrada Valencia, said: “Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Carlos.  We have waited so long for answers about what he endured over those few days in Algeria.  We are especially grateful to the dedicated members of the Metropolitan Police’s SO15 Counter-Terrorism team, who have taken over 450 witness statements from across the globe, and also to the Assistant Coroner and his team for taking the time to review all of the evidence presented.

“It has been so hard to listen to the witnesses in court and to find out that there were so many concerns with the security at the site before the attack.  We just want to know that this evidence is going to change things for the future and will stop anything similar from happening again.”

The Inquest has now been adjourned whilst the Government considers whether material it holds is relevant and can be released to the public.  The Assistant Coroner, His Honour Judge Hilliard QC, has indicated that his verdict will not be ready until at least January 2015.  16 January 2015 will be the two year anniversary of the attack and the families are hopeful they will receive a verdict by this date.

Evidence Heard:

Reliance on the military for security: Families of the 7 British residents killed in the attack heard witnesses give evidence upon how BP, Statoil and Sonatrach relied entirely upon the Algerian military for security in the wider desert area around In Amenas, as well as the country’s borders with Libya, Mali and Niger.  Despite this reliance, the Algerian military were not able to detect and prevent the terrorists from reaching the plant. 

Derek Porter, BP’s Head of Security and Crisis Management, told the Inquest: “What had gone wrong was that the security system in its entirety, the Algerian intelligence services, the Algerian border protection, the Algerian militarised zone and the Gendarme had catastrophically failed on 16 January.”   Despite there having been a Quick Reaction Force stationed within the plant, one of the British hostages who survived the terrorists’ attack on a minibus leaving the plant also recounted how Algerian Gendarmes only came to his assistance after he had been under fire for 28 minutes, and that when they did arrive, some of them were wearing flip-flops.

BP, Statoil and Sonatrach, as the partners in the Joint Venture, were responsible for inner security measures at the plant, including the physical protective barriers, gates, guards within the site, access controls, contingency plans, training and other measures to protect the joint venture’s people and assets from security threats. 

The Inquest heard evidence upon how physical security measures at the site were not built to withstand a terrorist attack.  Mark Cobb, BP’s Deputy General Manager at In Amenas, told the Inquest how the guards at the plant were not armed, such that “if terrorists showed up at the front gate there is little that the guards could actually do”.  The Coroner’s own security expert, Mr Colin Braziel, told the Inquest: “…reading the evidence of many witnesses they conclude quite clearly that [the site] was never designed to withstand an attack and I would support that view, that there was insufficient security measures in place to protect against an armed assault on that facility.”

Despite various risks and warnings, the security alert status at the site had not been upgraded.  This is despite the Inquest hearing evidence from an Algerian national that a threat was made to manager at the site the evening before the attack in the words: “you have made your law, but tomorrow when you wake you will have a surprise and blood will be shed.”

Partners and staff at Irwin Mitchell have also acted for numerous victims of terrorism around the World including the Lockerbie disaster (Pan Am flight 103), the September 11th attacks at the World Trade Centre in New York, the IRA bombing of the Arndale Centre in Manchester, and the 7/7 bombings in London.

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in International Personal Injury