Sacrifice ... Witnesses say Lana Mohamed Amine's actions prevented a major disaster and suggested the In Amenas plant be renamed after him. Photo: AFP
ALGIERS: The only Algerian killed by Islamists who raided the BP gas plant in the Sahara has been hailed a hero for sounding an alarm that alerted colleagues to shut down production, averting a catastrophic explosion.
Witnesses said Lana Mohamed Amine, a security guard, sacrificed his life by ignoring the gunmen's demand to keep still and instead lunged to press an alarm button. He was shot in the head. Other workers in the sprawling complex were able to close valves and decompress the system, preventing a blast that Abdelmalek Sellal, the Algerian Prime Minister, said would have been felt for kilometres, handing the al-Qaeda-linked terrorists a spectacular propaganda coup.
Mr Sellal paid tribute to Mr Amine, and the Algerian media has called for the 31-year-old to be honoured formally by renaming the plant after him.
Several hundred other Algerians were allowed to flee the plant, as extremists from a branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb held foreigners in the accommodation block and the central processing facility, where Mr Amine died.
Sources said it appeared the gunmen wanted to move all the foreigners to the latter location before setting off an explosion.
It is believed a number of hostages were shot as the Algerian army besieged the plant.
The combination of the killings and the risk of bombs being planted inside prompted an assault by the army that was criticised by some countries.
At least 37 foreigners died. Sources said reports that five workers could have escaped into the desert were probably mistaken. The Algerian authorities have said the 32 attackers comprised eight nationalities, including 11 Tunisians, three Algerians and others from Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Egypt.
Two were reportedly dual national Canadian-Algerians, and one of those was among the three militants captured by security forces. The other 29 were killed.