SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A Puerto Rican gas worker who survived a deadly terrorist takeover at a natural gas plant in Algeria by hiding under a mattress has returned safely to the island, a government official said Tuesday.
Wilmer Lebron Ayala is one of seven U.S. citizens who escaped being killed by Islamic militants during a four-day battle last week. At least 37 hostages and 29 militants were killed, while five foreign workers are still missing, authorities said.
The Puerto Rican native hid from the terrorists for more than three days, said Hiram Vega, spokesman for the city of Sabana Grande, where Lebron's family lives.
A family member, who did not want to be identified for security reasons, said Lebron survived with several other workers by huddling under mattresses they had thrown on the floor of the dormitory where they were staying.
The group remained under the mattresses without water or bathroom breaks, enduring an intense heat and eating only a couple of snacks they had earlier brought to the dormitory, the relative said.
The family member said Lebron told him that he owes his life to the plant's security guard.
"(Lebron) said he thanks God first and then the guard, who before being executed activated the terrorism alarm," the relative said.
When the alarm went off, Lebron and his colleagues deactivated the lights and hid in the dormitory, the relative said, and Lebron told him that he kept hearing the terrorists demanding the location of "the Americans".
When they were finally rescued, Lebron was taken to Germany, where the FBI clothed him, fed him and took him to a hospital for an evaluation, the relative said.
Lebron arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday and was greeted by his wife, his mother and other family members, along with a group of government workers from Sabana Grande, said Vega, who also is a friend of Lebron's wife.
The relative, who was among those greeting Lebron at the airport, said the man is physically healthy but that the attack left him shook up.
"I saw him a bit disoriented. His eyes were really big," he said. "Even at the airport he kept looking up, to the sides. I felt he was scared."
Vega said the FBI took Lebron to an undisclosed location and ordered him and his family to not talk to the media for security reasons.
Lebron was working at the Ain Amenas gas plant in the Sahara Desert, which militants stormed last Wednesday in a battle that involved exploding cars and helicopter attacks.
The Pentagon has said there are strong indications that al-Qaida's North Africa affiliate, AQIM, had "a hand" in the assault.