Islamist gunmen killed seven foreign hostages in Algeria yesterday before being gunned down by special forces in a final assault on a remote desert gas complex, state television said.
The 11 men from a group known as “Signatories in Blood” had been holed up at the In Amenas complex since they took hundreds of workers hostage in a
dawn attack on Wednesday. Most of the hostages, including about 100 foreigners, had been freed after Algerian forces launched a bloody rescue operation on Thursday – widely condemned as hasty – but 30 remained unaccounted for.
In yesterday’s final assault “the Algerian army took out 11 terrorists, and the terrorist group killed seven foreign hostages”, state TV said. It did not give the nationalities of those who died.
A security official gave the same toll for both the captors and hostages killed, adding it was believed “they were killed in retaliation”. The gunmen, cited by Mauritania’s ANI news agency, said earlier they were still holding “seven foreign hostages”.
On Friday, they said three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and a Briton were still being held captive, although Brussels said there was no indication any of its nationals were being held.
Earlier yesterday, Algerian special forces found 15 burned bodies at the plant. Efforts were under way to identify the bodies, the source said, and it was not clear how they had died.
Norway’s Statoil, which jointly operates the In Amenas site with Britain’s BP and Sonatrach of Algeria, said two Norwegians had been found alive but six others were missing.
After the assault, a security official said 25-27 foreign and Algerian hostages had been killed over the four-day crisis, but the exact number of those seized and unaccounted was still unclear.
Amid what had been a virtual news blackout in Algiers, harshly criticised by local media, world leaders took a firm stand on the safety of the remaining hostages.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Washington would “take all necessary steps to protect our people” from the threat of al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in North Africa.
At least one American had already been confirmed dead before yesterday’s final assault.
“Signatories in Blood,” led by Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former senior al-Qaeda commander in north Africa, was demanding an end to French intervention against Islamists in neighbouring Mali, ANI reported earlier. Belmokhtar also wanted to exchange American hostages for the blind Egyptian sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui, jailed in the United States on charges of having terrorist links.
Additional reporting by Reuters