Algerian Islamists protesting in the capital Algiers, against the decision taken by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to allow French fighter jets to fly in the country’s airspace, yesterday.
ALGIERS: Twelve hostages and 18 kidnappers have been killed since Algeria’s army launched an assault against the Islamist gunmen who seized hundreds of people at a gas complex, a security official said yesterday. Along with 573 Algerians, around 100 foreign hostages out of 132 seized are reported to have been freed, but some 30 are still missing.
“As well as the 18 terrorists who were killed, 12 Algerian and foreign workers died,” said the source, cited by Algeria’s APS news agency, without giving any more details of the foreign casualties and calling it a “provisional toll.”
The hostage-takers said they were still holding seven foreigners at the gas plant, part of which they blew up in order to push back Algerian forces, Mauritania’s ANI news agency reported.
The hostages remaining in captivity include three Belgians, two Americans, a Japanese citizen and a Briton. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said a Frenchman had been killed in the rescue operation.
Algerian special forces launched their dramatic rescue operation at midday on Thursday after the kidnappers seized the hostages at the gas plant in what they said was retaliation for Algeria’s support for French air strikes in Mali. Security sources said the army was trying to reach a “peaceful” end to the ongoing hostage crisis, before “neutralising the terrorist group that is holed up in the plant and freeing a group of hostages still being held there.”
The In Amenas plant, which is jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s Sonatrach, was put out of service to avoid the risk of explosion. The kidnappers said 34 captives were killed in the military assault, but an Algerian security source described that toll as “fantasy,” while stating that 18 of more than 30 gunmen involved in the hostage-taking operation were killed.
International criticism is mounting of the Algerian government’s handling of the attack on the plant amid reports that many foreign hostages may have been killed in the army raid.
Sources close to the militants’ leader were quoted by Mauritanian media as saying they want to negotiate an end to French intervention in Mali and exchange American hostages for prisoners held in the United States. Algeria has insisted it would not negotiate with “terrorists.”
The gunmen want to swap American hostages they are holding for Islamist prisoners held in the United States, the ANI news agency quoted sources close to their leader as saying yesterday.
The abductors, who are also holding other Algerian and foreign hostages, have also demanded negotiations for an end to French intervention in Mali, the agency said, quoting sources close to Mohktar Belmokhtar.
Veteran Islamist fighter Belmokhtar, a one-eyed Algerian jihadist with Al Qaeda ties, has claimed responsibility for launching Wednesday’s attack. ANI said Belmokhtar proposed that “France and Algeria negotiate an end to the war being waged by France in Azawad” (northern Mali). He also proposed “exchanging American hostages held by his group (the ‘Signatories in Blood’)” for Egyptian Omar Abdul Rahman and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui, who are jailed in the United States on charges of terrorist links.
The British government is flying a team of consular staff and intelligence analysts from MI6 (foreign intelligence) and MI5 (national security) to Algiers to help secure the release of the Britons involved in the ongoing hostage crisis.Agencies