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Hostages are seen with their hands in the air at the In Amenas gas facility in this still image received yesterday.
IN AMENAS, Algeria: A dramatic four-day hostage crisis at an Algerian gas plant ended in a bloodbath yesterday when Islamists executed all seven of their remaining foreign captives as troops stormed the desert complex.
Twenty-one hostages, including an unknown number of foreigners, died during the siege that began when the Al Qaeda-linked gunmen attacked the facility deep in the Sahara at dawn on Wednesday, the interior ministry said. Thirty-two kidnappers were also killed, and special forces were able to free “685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners,” the ministry said.
The kidnappers led by Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former Al Qaeda commander in North Africa, killed two people on a bus, a Briton and an Algerian, before taking hundreds of workers hostage when they overran the In Amenas complex. Belmokhtar’s “Signatories in Blood” group had been demanding an end to French military intervention against jihadists in neighbouring Mali.
In yesterday’s assault, “the Algerian army took out 11 terrorists, and the terrorist group killed seven foreign hostages,” state television said, without giving a breakdown of their nationalities.
As experts began to clear the complex of bombs planted by the Islamists, residents of In Amenas breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“We went from a peaceful situation to a terror situation,” said one resident who gave his name as Fouad. “The plant could have exploded and taken out the town,” said another.
Brahim Zaghdaoui said he was not surprised by the Algerian army’s ruthless final assault. “It was predictable that it would end like that,” he said. Most of the hostages had been freed on Thursday when Algerian forces launched a rescue operation, which was widely condemned as hasty.
But French President Francois Hollande and US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta refused to lay the blame on Algeria. The Algiers government’s response was “the most appropriate” given it was dealing with “coldly determined terrorists ready to kill their hostages,” said Hollande.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said five British nationals and a British resident are dead or unaccounted for. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said he had received “severe information” about 10 of his country’s nationals who were still missing.
On Friday the gunmen, cited by Mauritania’s ANI news agency, said they were still holding “seven foreign hostages” — three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and a Briton. However, Brussels said it had no indication any of its nationals were being held.
Algeria was strongly criticised for launching the initial assault, which the kidnappers said had left dead 34 of the hostages and 15 of their own fighters. 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 terrorist links. At least one American had already been confirmed dead before yesterday’s assault. AFP