Fri, Jan 18, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Algerian forces storm plant, 35 hostages killed: reports


Mokhtar Belmokhtar, identified by the Algerian government as the leader of a militant Islamic group, is pictured in a screen capture from an undated video distributed by the Belmokhtar Brigade obtained by Reuters on Wednesday. Belmokhtar has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of up to 41 foreigners at an Algerian gas field.

Photo: Reuters

Algerian security forces stormed a gas complex in the southern desert where an al-Qaeda-linked group was holding foreign hostages, according to an official with the state-run oil company Sonatrach, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Mauritania’s private ANI news agency reported that 35 hostages and 15 abductors were killed in an aerial raid, citing an unidentified spokesman for the group.

The militants had been trying to move the hostages in vehicles when they came under attack, ANI said. The claim could not be independently verified.

The group said it was holding 41 foreigners it abducted from a natural gas complex operated by BP PLC, Statoil ASA of Norway and Algeria’s Sonatrach, while Algerian Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said they numbered “a little more than 20.”

US, Norwegian, British and Malaysian workers were among the hostages, according to the oil companies, family members and governments, including 12 Statoil employees and an Irish national. A British citizen died in the attack, a report said.

The crisis in Algeria is “ongoing,” the British Foreign Office said.

“The prime minister was updated on the latest situation in Algeria by the Algerian PM in the last hour,” the Foreign Office said on its Twitter feed yesterday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke with Norwegian and Japanese lawmakers, and the companies involved at the complex, and decided it was right for the Algerians to lead efforts to end the crisis and has received no request for help, Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters yesterday.

“The prime minister made very clear that we would consider any requests that they made for assistance,” Gray said. “We need to do all we can to ensure the safety of all the hostages of all nationalities.”

The militant group, calling itself the “Signatories by Blood,” is demanding France end its military attacks in Mali, according to ANI.

French ground troops advanced in Mali on Wednesday to engage Islamist fighters and ethnic Touareg separatists that have taken control of the northern half of the nation and were moving toward the capital, Bamako.

The attackers were operating under the orders of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who previously led al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Kablia said.

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