Houston engineer still captive in Algeria

A Houston engineer was alive and still being held hostage by al-Qaida-linked militants Friday morning, along with other workers, the day after Algerian special forces launched a rescue operation at a natural gas plant in the North African nation, the man’s brother told the Houston Chronicle.

The 57-year-old Texas man is an industrial engineer who until October had worked for more than a decade for ENGlobal Corp., a Houston-based firm that provides engineering consulting services and systems to the oil and gas industry.

“I’ve been told they are doing everything they can to free him,” the brother, who lives in Nederland, near Beaumont, said in a telephone interview Thursday. “Several governments are involved. They’re negotiating.”

He said he was in regular contact with FBI agents, who were keeping him up to date on his brother’s condition and the efforts to rescue him. He said his brother had been at the facility only a few weeks. He said he didn’t know what kind of work his brother did there.

“My brother is still alive and still being held hostage,” he said. “They’re still at the facility is all we know.”

The brother said the FBI told him the attackers were holding a number of hostages.

Names withheld

The Chronicle is withholding the names of the hostage and his brother because the FBI and State Department have said making the hostages’ names public could endanger them.

The Houston engineer is married and has two children, his brother said. One of the children returned from college and the other came from out of town as the family gathered to await news.

“Everybody needs to hear this story, but I don’t want to hinder the negotiations,” the brother said. “I’d hate to be the one to cost him his life.”

The man’s Facebook page lists him as a 1973 graduate of Nederland High School and says he attended Lamar University. Among his close friends is Mark Cobb, who lists himself on his LinkedIn page as a general manager at the facility in Algeria.

Read more: Crisis raises security fears for oil firms here and abroad

“Mark is still over in that country working diligently to do what he can from being a plant facility operator to get all his people out,” the brother said, adding that Cobb was not being held. “I talked to Mark yesterday. He was very upset.”

The brother said he doesn’t know where Cobb was when the militants attacked.

After talking at length about the ordeal, the brother cut the interview short so he could take a call from the FBI.

Reached again by the Chronicle around 7 p.m., the brother said officials in Washington had informed him that his brother was still alive.

The brother said his sister-in-law and others in the hostage’s family were “doing well under the circumstances.”

A spokeswoman for ENGlobal, Natalie Hairston, said the Houston engineer worked for her company as a project manager from August 1998 until last October. She did not know where he worked after leaving ENGlobal, where he served as a project manager.

According to its website, ENGlobal has a past relationship with Japanese engineering and construction firm JGC, which provides services for the gas facility in Algeria.

“We are concerned obviously, but we will not be commenting out of respect for his family,” Hairston said.

Dozens taken hostage

Members of the Texas congressional delegation were being kept abreast of the developments.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said he spoke with a member of the Texan’s family.

“Our first priority must be to secure our fellow citizens,” Cruz said in a statement. “Once this has been achieved, we should look at the attacks on our people in this region as part of a pattern of terrorist activity on the part of al-Qaida-related groups and stop treating them as random events.”

Militants seized the Ain Amenas natural gas complex on Wednesday, taking dozens of foreign workers hostage.

Algerian state tele­vision said Thursday that four captives – two Britons and two Filipinos – were among the dead. The Associated Press reported that at least six people were killed.

Dozens more remained unaccounted for: Americans, Britons, French, Norwegians, Romanians, Malaysians, Japanese, Algerians – and the fighters themselves.

British oil giant BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach operate the gas field.