The Japanese company that helped build the remote Saharan gas plant at the center of Algeria’s bloody hostage crisis, in which as many as a dozen Japanese nationals may have been killed, once told investors the country was a haven of stability as unrest swept the region.
On Sunday, engineering firm JGC said it could not account for 10 of its Japanese staff and seven of its foreign workers, as its chief, Koichi Kawana, left for Algeria with the parliamentary vice minister of foreign affairs, Minoru Kiuchi.
The company has 78 employees, including 17 Japanese, at the plant, which was stormed Wednesday by heavily armed Islamists who said they were acting in retaliation for French intervention in neighboring Mali.
The vast site is run by British Petroleum, Norway’s Statoil and Sonatrach of Algeria.
JGC once pointed to Algeria as a relative oasis in a turbulent region as Arab Spring democracy movements swept across North Africa and the Middle East.
“Since the end of 2010, the world has witnessed democratic uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa,” the company said in its 2011 annual report, released in July of that year.
Algeria has had a democratically elected government since the late 1990s.
“JGC has ongoing projects in Algeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. As these countries have not experienced noticeable disorder, our projects have proceeded steadily without being affected.”
During a final assault by Algerian special forces Saturday, 32 kidnappers were killed, while the army freed 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners, according to Algeria’s interior ministry.
Reports have said dozens of hostages were also killed.
Two Algerian survivors employed by JGC said nine Japanese were killed during the siege.
On Sunday, a hospital source said 12 bodies being held at a morgue in Algeria’s Ain Amenas hospital, where victims were taken, are Japanese.
JGC, which builds chemical and energy plants, has about 2,200 employees and expects sales of ¥600 billion ($6.7 billion) in its business year, which ended in September.