Algeria crisis: Hostage death toll ‘rises to 48’

Ref : At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant, as reports say that 25 bodies found at the complex on Sunday were all those of captives.

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It had initially been unclear whether the bodies found were those of hostage-takers or staff at the facility.  A search is continuing at the In Amenas gas plant, where as many as 20 hostages remain unaccounted for.

Five suspected Islamist attackers were reportedly arrested on Sunday. The Algerian authorities had said on Saturday that all 32 hostage-takers had been killed. The siege was ended in a raid by troops on Saturday. Officials say a definitive death toll will be released later.

Officials said the army launched its assault after Islamist militants began killing foreign hostages. UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have blamed “terrorists” for the hostages’ deaths.

“We are ready to negotiate with the west and the Algerian government, provided they stop their bombing of Mali’s Muslims”

And on Sunday French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the hostage-taking as an “act of war”.

“What strikes me the most is that we’re saying ‘hostage-taking’ but when there are so many people concerned, I think this is an act of war,” he told French TV.

‘Production to resume’

As Western leaders condemned the kidnappings, Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi said Algeria would boost security at its energy installations without outside help.

“It is out of the question to allow foreign security forces to handle the security of our oil facilities,” he said, quoted by Algeria’s APS news agency.

During a visit to the affected plant, Mr Yousfi said it would resume production within two days.

The private TV channel Ennahar said security forces had discovered the bodies of 25 hostages as they searched the complex for booby-traps and mines.

The militants had threatened to blow up the site and kill their hostages, officials said.

Mauritanian website Sahara Media reported that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the suspected organiser of the siege, had claimed responsibility for it in a video message.

The four-day siege

  • 16 January: Militants attack two buses carrying In Amenas workers, killing two
  • They then go on to the gas facility’s living quarters and main installation, seizing hostages
  • Some gas workers manage to escape
  • 17 January: Algerian forces attack after the militants try to move their hostages in five 4x4s – four of the vehicles are destroyed in an air strike and an unknown number of hostages killed
  • 18 January: Stalemate as Algerian forces surround the gas plant where the remaining hostages are held
  • 19 January: Algerian forces launch a final assault after reports that the hostage-takers were killing their captives
  • 20 January: Algeria says death toll of 32 hostage-takers and at least 23 captives is likely to rise

The website said the video – recorded on 17 January while the siege was still going on but not posted on the website – showed the militant leader saying he was prepared to negotiate with Western and Algerian leaders if operations against Islamists in Mali were stopped.

In other developments:

  • Three Britons were confirmed dead, and a further three are missing, feared dead. UK officials were “working hard” to locate the missing, said Foreign Secretary William Hague
  • A Colombian citizen resident in the UK, Carlos Estrada, is thought to be among the dead, the Colombian president has said
  • Japanese officials said they had no confirmation of the fate of 10 nationals who remained unaccounted for, despite reports that nine had died
  • Romania’s foreign ministry said one of its citizens had died in hospital after sustaining severe injuries during the siege. Another Romanian has already been reported killed and as many as three others have been freed
  • Two Malaysians are unaccounted for, as are five Norwegians

“You fear the worst, you can’t put into words how bad you feel, it’s something you never want to go through again”

State news agency APS said 685 Algerian workers and 107 out of 132 foreigners working at the plant had been freed, citing interior ministry figures.

The nationalities of some of the hostages killed are still not known.

The crisis began on Wednesday when militants attacked two buses carrying foreign workers to the remote site in south-eastern Algeria. A Briton and an Algerian reportedly died in the incident.

The militants then took Algerians and expatriates hostage at the complex, which was quickly surrounded by the Algerian army.

A statement from the kidnappers said the assault on the gas plant was launched in retaliation for French intervention against Islamist groups in neighbouring Mali.

However, France only decided last week to intervene militarily in Mali. Analysts say the assault on the gas facility was well-planned and would have required advance research, as well as possibly inside help.

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