Al Jazeera – 2013-01-18 00:33:52
(January 18, 2013) — At least 30 hostages and 11 members of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group were killed when Algerian forces stormed a desert gas plant to free the captives, drawing international attention to al-Qaeda in North Africa.
Eight Algerians and seven foreigners, including two British, two Japanese and a French national, were among the dead, an Algerian security source said. Nine foreign nationals have been released but the fate of a number of those who had been held by the fighters remains unclear.
The hostages included Algerians, as well as foreigners from at least nine countries — including the US, Britain and Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cut short a visit to Indonesia on Friday, reports said, to fly home and deal with the hostage crisis in Algeria in which numerous Japanese are caught up.
Communication Minister Mohamed Said said troops had been forced to act after talks with the kidnappers failed. He said many fighters had been killed in the operation at the In Amenas gas field.
Algerian officials says those behind the attack were part of an Al-Qaeda linked group and included Egyptian, Algerian and Tunisian nationals. The government said it was forced to launch the military operation because the fighters had threatened to blow up the gas plant.
Earlier, a spokesman for the group holding the hostages said 34 of the captives had been killed along with 15 kidnappers as a government helicopter attacked a convoy transporting hostages and their captors.
The Masked Brigade said its fighters seized the workers on Wednesday in retaliation for Algeria letting France use its airspace to launch operations against rebels in northern Mali , but security experts said the raid appeared to have been planned well in advance. The fighters came from Libya, according to the Algerian interior minister.
“According to the information we have, the terrorist group which attacked the In Amenas site came from Libya,” Dahou Ould Kablia told Algeria’s Arab-language daily Echorouk. Kablia had said on Wednesday the kidnappers were from the region, denying that they came from Libya or from Mali as some of them claimed.
Algeria’s official APS news agency said nearly 600 Algerian workers and four foreign hostages — two Britons, a Frenchman and a Kenyan — had been freed during the operation. The Irish foreign ministry said an Irish man had also been freed.
Several countries whose nationals were among those taken hostage were critical of Algeria’s military operation to free the captives. Japan urged the Algerian government to put an “immediate end” to the operation.
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the US administration was “concerned about reports of loss of life and are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria”.
Britain was not given prior notice of the Algerian government operation to release hostages and would have preferred to have been informed, Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said.
The fighters, communicating through media in neighboring Mauritania, said they had dozens of men armed with mortars and anti-aircraft missiles in the compound and had rigged it with explosives.
“We hold the Algerian government and the French government and the countries of the hostages fully responsible if our demands are not met, and it is up to them to stop the brutal aggression against our people in Mali,” read one statement carried by Mauritanian media.
A Briton and an Algerian were killed on Wednesday, after fighters launched an ambush of a bus carrying employees from the gas plant to the nearby airport.
The In Amenas gas field is jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s Sonatrach.
France launched a major offensive against the rebel group Ansar al-Dine in Mali on January 11 to prevent them from advancing on the capital, Bamako.
Algeria had long warned against military intervention against the rebels, fearing the violence could spill over the border.
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