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A freed Algerian hostage hugs a relative at Algiers airport after he was released by Islamist captors from a gas plant in In Amenas.
TULLE, France: French President Francois Hollande yesterday came out in support of Algeria’s deadly military strike against Islamist hostage-takers at a desert gas plant, saying the action was appropriate in the face of “coldly determined terrorists”.
Other nations have criticised the hasty military backlash that left several expatriate workers dead, with Britain, Japan and Norway insisting they should have been forewarned of an army raid on Thursday.
France has refrained from criticising the military action that claimed one of its countrymen among the fallen in the former French colony.
“When there is a hostage-taking with so many people involved and such coldly determined terrorists, ready to kill their hostages — which they did — a country such as Algeria has had... the most appropriate responses because there could be no negotiations,” Hollande told reporters in Tulle, south-central France.
The captors, calling themselves “Signatories in Blood”, killed the last seven of their foreign hostages yesterday before being gunned down at the remote gas plant, state media said, ending one of the bloodiest international hostage
crises in years.
Most of the hostages, including 573 Algerians and about 100 foreigners, had been freed when Algerian forces launched a rescue operation on Thursday, but some 30 remained unaccounted for.
A preliminary government toll yesterday said 23 captives and 32 kidnappers were killed in the four-day
Some analysts say France’s non-critical stance to the Algerian events reflects the fraught nature of ties with its former colony, and the fact that the French air force requires access to Algerian airspace for its bombing campaign in neighbouring Mali.
Hollande said the Algerian events justified France’s military intervention in Mali, which the hostage-takers had cited as the reason for their action.
“If there had been a need to justify the action that we took against terrorism, we now have an additional argument in favour,” the French president said on a visit to Tulle, his political fiefdom, to meet a delegation from an infantry regiment which is deploying troops to Mali.
He added that French troops would stay in the west African state, also a former colony, “as long as is necessary so that terrorism can be defeated in that part of Africa.”
Hollande will today meet the families of seven French hostages being held in the Sahel region.
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.
A security official who spoke to AFP as army helicopters overflew the plant gave the same death tolls, adding it was believed the foreigners were executed “in retaliation”.
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.
Even US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta refused to lay the blame on Algeria.
Panetta added: “They are in the region, they understand the threat from terrorism... I think it’s important that we continue to work with (Algiers) to develop a regional approach.”
British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the crisis had been “brought to an end by a further assault by Algerian forces, which has resulted in further loss of life”.
“We’re pressing the Algerians for details on the exact situation,” he said.
The deaths were “appalling and unacceptable and we must be clear that it is the terrorists who bear sole responsibility for it,” he told a news conference with Panetta.
The hostage-taking was the largest since the 2008 Mumbai attack, and the biggest by jihadists since hundreds were killed in a Moscow theatre in 2002 and at a school in the Russian town of Beslan in 2004, according to monitoring group IntelCenter.
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.