“Mali” Islamists Kill 3, Take 41 Hostage in Algeria
Islamists claiming to come from Mali killed three foreigners and are holding 41 more hostage after a raid on a compound near an Algerian gas field. The attack is reportedly in retaliation to the ongoing French military campaign in Mali.
A group of several dozen heavily armed Islamic militants have reportedly repelled an attempt by the Algerian army to raid the facility where the hostages are being held. The soldiers were forced to retreat after an exchange of fire, Mauritania’s ANI news agency reported citing a source in the al Qaeda-affiliated group.
The source added that besides light weapons the militants are armed with mortars and anti-aircraft missiles.
The terrorist group using three vehicles launched an early morning attack against a base owned by Sontrach, the Algerian national oil company.
A Briton and an Algerian security guard were killed and seven people were injured in the assault, including two foreigners, Algeria’s official APS news agency said. A French national was also killed in the attack, Reuters cites a local source as saying.
The Foreign Office in London said it could not confirm that a Briton had been killed, only that “British Nationals ”were caught up in an “ongoing terrorist incident.”
“Forty-one westerners including seven Americans, French, British and Japanese citizens have been taken hostage,” a spokesman for the Islamists told the Mauritanian News Agency and Sahara Media.
He said some of the hostages were being held at the gas plant, while the others were in a nearby housing complex.
Thirteen Norwegian employees working for the energy company Statoil have also been taken hostage inside the natural gas facility, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference on Wednesday.
“We’ve asked the Algerian authorities to put the life and health of the hostages above all,” Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told reporters.
Algerian security forces have surrounded the kidnappers, a security official based in the region told AP. He confirmed that the militants had come from Mali, though he spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The Algerian Press Service (APS) reports that the Algerians taken hostage have been set free.
“The kidnappers are demanding the release of 100 terrorists being held in Algeria, in exchange for their hostages,” a worker at the gas complex told AFP by telephone.
“(They) have demanded that these (detained) Islamists be taken to northern Mali,” the source added.
Algerian authorities have ruled out negotiating with the Islamist fighters, however, leaving the fate of the foreign hostages in doubt.
“The Algerian authorities will not respond to the demands of the terrorists and will not negotiate,” Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia was quoted by state news agency APS.
The United States confirmed on Wednesday that US citizens were among the hostages.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Algeria’s prime minister to discuss the incident, though a State Department spokeswoman would not give any further details as they continue in their efforts to “secure these people.”
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said the US “will take all necessary and proper steps” to deal with what he described as a “terrorist attack.” Panetta did not outline what concrete actions the United States would take to deal with the hostage crisis.
An al-Qaeda affiliated group said the raid was executed in retaliation to Algeria’s decision to allow France to use its airspace to launch airstrikes against militants in Mila, where French forces have been targeting Islamists fighters since last week.
A spokesman for the group called Algeria’s attitude “a betrayal for the blood of Algerian martyrs slain by the French colonists.”
The group further said to ensure the safety of the kidnapped hostages in Algeria, the French attack on Northern Mali must end, Reuters reports.
On Wednesday French troops launched their first ground operation against Islamist rebels following six days of airstrikes.
French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday French forces would remain in Mali until stability was returned to the conflict-torn West African state.
Algeria Hostages Made to Wear Explosive Belts
FRANCE 24 has spoken to a French national who says he is one of the 150 hostages at the gas facility in southeast Algeria. The hostage said that they have been forced to wear explosive belts and that this militants are “heavily armed”.
FRANCE 24 spoke to one of the hostages at the BP-Statoil-Sonatrach gas plant in eastern Algeria on Wednesday, the site of a deadly pre-dawn raid in which over 150 Algerians and around 40 Western foreigners were taken by Islamist militants.
French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said Thursday that Paris could not yet confirm the presence of French nationals among those taken captive, but Socialist MP Bruno Le Roux told French radio there were “surely” some French among the group.
The man, who declined to be identified by name, told FRANCE 24 that there were British, Japanese, Philippine and Malaysian nationals among the hostages.
He said the militants simultaneously stormed the gas plant as well as the workers’ living quarters. “They came in and once there was daylight, grouped us all together.”
He said the attackers were heavily armed and forced several hostages to wear explosives belts. They threatened to blow up the gas field if Algerian forces attempted to enter the site.
FRANCE 24 could not verify if the testimony was made under duress.
Algeria: 45 Taken Hostage by “Battalion of Blood” Escape, Dozens Remain Captive
45 hostages, including several foreigners, have managed to escape the Sahara Desert gas facility where they were being held by Islamist militants. Dozens of people remain captive, some of whom were reportedly forced to put on explosive belts.
A group of Islamists calling themselves the ‘Battalion of Blood’ raided a compound near an Algerian gas field on Wednesday, taking dozens hostages.
They also killed a British citizen and an Algerian in an assault on a bus.
The Islamists were reportedly Malian nationals, and are demanding that French forces cease their bombardment of Mali and withdraw from the country. They have also called on the Algerian government to allow them safe passage from the facility, an unnamed official security source told Reuters.
“Battalion of Blood” Threaten to Kill All Hostages if Algeria Tries to Free Them by Force
The “battalion of Blood” has threatened to kill all hostages if the Algerian army tries to storm the place and free the hostages by force.
The group reported that Algerian troops began to crack down on them, shooting at them, in an apparent attempt to storm the place and try to free the hostages, and added, “We will kill all the hostages if Algerian troops tried to storm the place.”
Via ANI News
Algerian Helicopters Attack Gas Plant, 2 Hostages Injured
Algerian helicopters have attacked a group of Mali militants held up in a Saharan gas facility, injuring two Japanese hostages, ANI news reports. The army moved in after 50 captives, including dozens of foreigners, escaped from the militants.
35 Hostages and 15 Captors Killed by Algerian Airstrike
A spokesman for the “Battalion of Blood” says that 35 hostages and 15 captors were killed after Algerian aircraft bombed their place of detention.
One of the kidnappers at the Algerian gas installation told Mauritania’s ANI news agency about the government airstrikes and resulting causalities, though the information has not been independently confirmed.
Via ANI News
7 Western Hostages Left Alive
The agency says the remaining hostages are two Americans, three Belgians, one Japanese and one British citizen.
The leader of the militant group, Abu al-Baraa, was also reportedly killed in the government assault.
Via ANI News
Algerian Army Storms Plant
“Battalion of Blood” spokesman reports the Algerian army has begun the operation to storm the compound where the remaining 7 Western hostages are being held.
Heavy shelling could be heard behind the spokeman’s voice, as Algerian fighters backed by units on the ground began to try to break into the compound.
“Battalion of Blood” once again threatened to kill all remaining hostages if the troops entered the compound.
Via ANI News
ANI Loses Contact with “Battalion of Blood” Spokesman
Telephone communications were cut off shortly after the Algerian army began storming the site.
Via ANI News
US Drone Arrives Over Algerian Gas Plant
An unarmed Predator drone has flown over the BP plant where the hostages are being held to gather intelligence on the site, a U.S. official said Thursday.
Algerian State News Agency APS Quotes Official Saying Military Operation is Over
Worker at In Amenas gas facility tells Le Monde newspaper one of the militants spoke English with a perfect accent. The militants knew the complex well and were apparently of various nationalities: Egyptian, Tunisian, Algerian and one from Mali or Nigeria. When the armed forces attacked, Algerian hostages panicked and fled in their hundreds, he says.
The major military operation may be over, but the UK government has been told the plant is still being searched. It is feared that as yet unconfirmed reports of as many as 35 dead of many nationalities will prove to be correct.
Unconfirmed report by Algerian TV says four people were killed and 13 people wounded. Earlier, the hostage-takers told ANI news agency in Mauritania that 35 foreigners died.