Islamist Militants Killed Hostages, Captors In Algeria
FOREIGN hostages being held by Islamist militants at a gas plant in Algeria were feared to have been killed with reports of several casualties from a raid by Algerian forces yesterday.
An “ongoing operation” was under way at the remote desert facility where dozens of workers – including three Americans – were being held, Britain’s Foreign Office said. It gave no further details.
Bristish Prime Minister, David Cameron expressed surprise that the Algerian government kept everybody in the dark before it struck.
Two Britons were feared killed in the air strike by the Algerian forces.
In France, President Francois Hollande declined to give specific details about the Algerian operations, but alluded that it was nearly over.
“This all seems to be heading towards an end in dramatic conditions,” Hollande said before a speech to business leaders.
Unconfirmed reports from local sources cited by Reuters and The Associated Press said hostages and militants had been killed in the operation, but reporting on the number of casualties differed wildly.
Earlier, some of those being held reportedly escaped from the plant, near In Amenas, close to the Libyan border.
United States (U.S.) officials called the hostage situation in Algeria “murky” and “extremely fluid”. The officials said the U.S. is working with the government of Algeria and other affected nations to try to resolve the situation as quickly and securely as possible.
“We’re all concerned about any innocent lives that are at stake here. So, we are all working together on this,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.
Nuland did not say how many Americans were involved.
An Ireland government spokesman said yesterday that an Irish national held at the In Amenas gas plant had “made contact with his family and is understood to be safe and well, and no longer a hostage.”
Islamists stormed the natural BP Gas Plant pumping site and workers’ housing before dawn on Wednesday and claimed to have seized 41 foreign workers – from countries including the U.S., France, Ireland, Britain, Japan and Norway – and local employees.
The Associated Press, citing claims from militants, said the site was attacked on yesterday morning by Algerian military helicopters.
Islamist militants have told a Mauritanian news outlet that Algerian military helicopters strafed the gas complex where they are holding hostages, killing 35 of the foreigners and 15 of the kidnappers.
The spokesman for the Masked Brigade, which had earlier claimed responsibility for the Wednesday assault on the gas complex deep in the Sahara desert, said that Abou El Baraa, the leader of the kidnappers, was also killed in yesterday’s air raid.
The information came from the Nouakchott Information Agency, which has often carried reports from al-Qaida-linked extremist groups.
A local resident near the plant told Reuters the Algerian military had opened fire, and that “many people” were killed.
The resident, who asked not to be identified, said there were many bodies at the scene.
He did not give firm numbers of the dead or say whether they were kidnappers, hostages or both.
French wire service Agence France Press also said an Algerian helicopter was attacking the facility.
Twenty hostages of an Algerian militant group with ties to al Qaeda in a standoff with the Algerian Army are reported to have escaped yesterday.
The militants have demanded an end to the French military campaign in Mali, where hundreds of French paratroopers and marines are launching a ground offensive against rebels a week after Paris began firing on militants from the air.