Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal speaking at a press conference in Algiers, yesterday.
IN AMENAS, Algeria: Algiers said yesterday that 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities, as well as an Algerian, were killed by hostage-takers in a well-planned attack on a remote gas plant.
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said five other foreigners were still missing and that several of the hostages had been executed “with a bullet to the head” as the four-day crisis ended in a bloodbath on Saturday.
Most of the 32 militants who took hundreds of people hostage at the In Amenas gas complex in the Sahara on Wednesday had entered the country from neighbouring Mali, Sellal told a news conference in Algiers.
The premier gave the final grim figures after Algeria had warned other nations to prepare for a higher body count, amid fears as many as 50 captives may have died in the world’s deadliest hostage crisis in almost a decade.
“Thirty-seven foreigners of eight different nationalities,” were killed during the siege, Sellal told reporters, adding an Algerian was also killed, giving an overall toll of 38. He said the group’s leader was Mohammed Al Amine Bencheneb, an Algerian militant known to the country’s security services, and was killed during the army’s assault.
Twenty-nine hostage-takers were killed and three captured. As well as the three Algerians among them, the kidnappers comprised six foreign nationalities— Canadian, Egyptian, Tunisian, Malian, Nigerien and Mauritanian.
Governments have been scrambling to track down missing citizens as more details emerged after the final showdown on Saturday between special forces and extremists who had taken the hostages, demanding an end to French military intervention in Mali. Survivors’ photos showed bodies riddled with bullets, some with their heads half blown away by the impact of the gunfire.
“They were brutally executed,” said an Algerian who identified himself as Brahim, after escaping the ordeal, referring to Japanese victims gunned down by the hostage-takers.
The alleged mastermind of the hostage-taking, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, said in a video posted online that it was carried out by 40 fighters from the Muslim world and “European countries”.
His Al Qaeda-linked group “Signatories in Blood” threatened to stage attacks on nations involved in the French-led operation to evict Islamists from Algeria’s neighbour Mali, and said it had been open to negotiations.
“But the Algerian army did not respond... preferring to stage an attack which led to the elimination of the hostages,” it said in a message published by the Mauritanian news agency ANI.
Most hostages were freed on Thursday in the first Algerian rescue operation, which was initially viewed by foreign governments as hasty, before the focus of public condemnation turned on the jihadists. The In Amenas plant is run by Britain’s BP, Norway’s Statoil and Sonatrach of Algeria.
An Algerian employee of BP who identified himself as Abdelkader said he was at a security post with colleagues on Wednesday morning when he saw a jeep with seven people inside smash through the barrier and screech to a halt.
One of the militants got out of the vehicle, demanded their mobile phones and ordered them not to move, before disabling the security cameras. “He said: ‘You are Algerians and Muslims, you have nothing to fear. We’re looking for Christians, who kill our brothers in Mali and Afghanistan and plunder our resources’.”
three US citizens dead
The United States confirmed yesterday that three of its citizens were among the foreign workers who died last week in an attack by Islamist hostage-takers on an Algerian gas plant.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said seven more Americans survived the drama at the In Amenas site, and identified those killed as Victor Lynn Lovelady, Gordon Lee Rowan and Frederick Buttaccio.
Nuland said she would not be giving more details about the US dead or the survivors, out of respect for the families’ privacy, but cited President Barack Obama in blaming the militants for the bloodshed.
“As the president said, the blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms,” she said.
“We will continue to work closely with the Government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of the terrorist attack of last week and how we can work together moving forward to combat such threats in the future.”
Britain will contribute intelligence and counter-terrorism assets to help dismantle the militant network that carried out the hostage attack at an Algerian gas complex last week, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.
“We will contribute British intelligence and counter-terrorism assets to an international effort to find and dismantle the network that planned and ordered the brutal assault at In Amenas,” he told parliament, promising a “strong security response”.