32 militants and 23 hostages killed in Algeria
Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex on Saturday to end a standoff with Islamist extremists that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved.PT1M34S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2d0v6 620 349 January 20, 2013
The Algerian government said 23 hostages and 32 terrorists died in the four-day standoff that ended yesterday at a natural-gas plant in the nation's southeast.
The dead may have included as many as six Britons and five Norwegians and at least one American. Officials from those countries said they still lacked definitive information about the extent of the slaughter and the fate of people in the facility. Citizens of Colombia, France and Malaysia were also either confirmed dead or missing.
U.K. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters the hostage crisis "has been brought to an end."
A 2005 photo of the gas field at In Amenas, Algeria . Photo: Reuters
Algerian forces freed 107 foreigners and 685 Algerian workers, the country's Ministry of Interior said in a statement carried on the state-run APS news service. The ministry said that 32 terrorists were involved - the same number it said were killed - and that all but three were from neighboring countries.
Algerian troops attacked the complex near In Amenas in the country's southeastern desert to end the standoff with militants from a group called al Mulathameen. On Jan. 17, the army first attempted a rescue at the plant, which supplies about 2 percent of Europe's gas imports. The facility is operated by London-based BP Plc, Statoil SAS of Norway and Algeria's Sonatrach.
"Eleven terrorists were killed Saturday during the final raid launched by the People's National Army Special Forces against the terrorist group entrenched in the gas complex of Tiguentourine," APS reported, citing a security official it didn't identify.
"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," President Barack Obama said in an e-mailed statement. "This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa."
The UK is continuing to press Algeria for "information on those killed and rescued," Hammond said. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the same briefing in London that information is "sketchy" and his government is consulting with Algerian authorities.
"We do know there were Americans there and they were held hostage," he said. "As to what happened, that's something we need to get better information on."
The US took custody of the remains of an American, Frederick Buttaccio of Katy, Texas, who was found dead at the complex, according to a US official who wasn't authorized to speak on the record. Buttaccio's death was confirmed by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said in an e-mailed statement that one Briton was confirmed dead and five others hadn't yet been accounted for.
There is "no justification for taking innocent life in this way," Cameron said.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said that country has five citizens it can't account for. Statoil Chief Executive Officer Helge Lund said five of the Norwegian company's employees are missing.
BP Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said four of 18 employees remain missing and some may have died. A Colombian BP worker, Carlos Estrada, may have been among those killed, that country's president, Juan Manuel Santos, said in an e-mailed statement.
The plant had a large and significant workforce, employing citizens from more than 25 countries, Dudley said in a conference call.
France's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a French national had died and three were safe. The fate of two of five Malaysians working at the facility was unknown, the nation's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The Islamist militants struck January 16. The attackers, which entered Algeria from Niger, included citizens of Algeria, Canada, Mali, Egypt, Niger and Mauritania, according to Mauritania's private ANI news agency, citing a source in the group. They had demanded that France end its military intervention in neighboring Mali, which began January 11.
The attack by the militants "appears to have been a large, well-coordinated and heavily armed assault, and it is probable that it had been pre-planned," Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons on January 18.
The hostage crisis follows September's attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed along with three Americans.
Cameron said his government wasn't informed about the January 17 Algerian rescue attempt until it was underway. None of the nations whose citizens were among the hostages was consulted, said a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified information.
The Algerian army carried out a second counterattack January 18 that killed 18 militants, according to APS. The gas complex was shut down to avert the risk of explosion, APS said.
The militant group's leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar said he wanted to negotiate with France, which is fighting al-Qaeda- linked insurgents in Mali, and would exchange American hostages for two Islamists held in U.S. jails, ANI reported. He identified them as Omar Abdel Rahman and Aafia Siddiqui.
Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric known as the "blind sheik," is serving a life sentence in the U.S. after being convicted in 1995 of participating in a 1993 plot to blow up the World Trade Center and other New York City landmarks. Siddiqui, a U.S.-educated Pakistani neuroscientist, was sentenced to 86 years in a U.S. prison for trying to kill American soldiers and federal agents in Afghanistan in 2008.
The suspension of the plant at In Amenas may compound a seven-year decline in Algerian exports driven by higher domestic energy demand, said Thierry Bros, a gas-market analyst at Societe Generale SA. The field brings in $3.9 billion a year in revenue, he said.
Algerian gas exports weren't reduced following the attack, Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi told APS. "We simply compensated for the lack of production by producing other fields," he said.