Hostages react after they were freed from a gas facility in
Algeria where Islamist militants were holding them in
Tigantourine, in this still image taken from video.
REUTERS/Algerian TV via Reuters TV
More than 20 foreigners were still being held hostage or
missing inside a gas plant on Friday after Algerian forces
stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken
by Islamist militants, who threatened to attack other energy
Thirty hostages, including at least seven Westerners, were
killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of
their captors, said an Algerian security source.
The attack, which plunged capitals around the world into
crisis mode, is a serious escalation of unrest in
northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali
since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and
"We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation
where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in
one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in
another part," British Prime Minister David Cameron told his
A local Algerian source said 100 of 132 foreign hostages had
been freed from the facility. The fate of the other 32 was
unclear as the situation was changing rapidly.
Earlier he said 60 were still missing with some believed
still held hostage, but it was unclear how many, and how many
might be in hiding elsewhere in the sprawling compound.
Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among
the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming,
the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British
citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on
Those still unaccounted for on Friday included 10 from Japan
and eight Norwegians, according to their employers, and a
number of Britons which Cameron put at "significantly" less
France said it had no information on two Frenchmen who may
have been at the site and Washington has said a number of
Americans were among the hostages, without giving details.
The local source said a U.S. aircraft landed nearby on
Some countries have been reluctant to give details of the
numbers of their missing nationals to avoid disclosing
information that may be useful to their captors.
As Western leaders clamoured for news, several expressed
anger they had not been consulted by the Algerian government
about its decision to storm the facility.
The sprawling facility housed hundreds of workers. Algeria's
state news agency said the army had rescued 650 hostages in
total, 573 of whom were Algerians.
"(The army) is still trying to achieve a 'peaceful outcome'
before neutralising the terrorist group that is holed up in
the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still
being held," it said, quoting a security source.
Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30
hours after the siege began because the gunmen had demanded
to be allowed to take their captives abroad.
An Irish engineer who survived said he saw four jeeps full of
hostages blown up by Algerian troops.
A French hostage employed by a French catering company said
Algerian military forces had found some British hostages
hiding and were combing the sprawling In Amenas site for
others when he was escorted away by the military.
"I hid in my room for nearly 40 hours, under the bed. I put
boards up pretty much all round," Alexandre Berceaux told
Europe 1 raid. "I didn't know how long I was going to stay
there ... I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up
in a pine box."
"When Algerian solders ... came for me, I didn't even know it
was over. They were with some of my colleagues, otherwise I'd
never have opened the door."
Western governments are trying to determine the degree to
which the hostage taking was part of an international
conspiracy and was linked, as the captors claimed, to the
week-old French military intervention in neighbouring Mali.
The Algerian security source said only two of 11 militants
whose bodies were found on Thursday were Algerian, including
the squad's leader. The others comprised three Egyptians, two
Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman, he said.
Algeria state news agency APS said the group had planned to
take the hostages to Mali.
The plant was heavily fortified, with security, controlled
access and an army camp with hundreds of armed personnel
between the accommodation and processing plant, Andy Coward
Honeywell, who worked there in 2009, told the BBC.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those responsible
would be hunted down: "Terrorists should be on notice that
they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not
in North Africa, not anywhere," he said in London. "Those who
would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no
place to hide."
The crisis posed a serious dilemma for former colonial power
Paris and its allies as French troops attacked the
hostage-takers' al Qaeda allies in Mali, another former
The desert fighters have proved to be better trained and
equipped than France had anticipated, diplomats told Reuters
at the United Nations, which said 400,000 people could flee
Mali to neighbouring countries in the coming months.
In Algeria, the kidnappers warned locals to stay away from
foreign companies' oil and gas installations, threatening
more attacks, Mauritania's news agency ANI said, citing a
spokesman for the group.
Algerian workers form the backbone of an oil and gas industry
that has attracted international firms in recent years partly
because of military-style security. The kidnapping, storming
and further threat cast a deep shadow over its future.
Hundreds of workers from international oil companies were
evacuated from Algeria on Thursday and many more will follow,
BP, which jointly ran the gas plant with Norway's Statoil and
the Algerian state oil firm, said on Friday.
The overall commander of the kidnappers, Algerian officials
said, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran of Afghanistan in the
1980s and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s and one of
a host of Saharan Islamists, flush with arms and fighters
from the 2011 civil war in Libya. He appears not to have been
Algerian security specialist Anis Rahmani, author of several
books on terrorism and editor of Ennahar daily, told Reuters
about 70 militants were involved from two groups,
Belmokhtar's "Those who sign in blood", who travelled from
Libya, and the lesser known "Movement of the Islamic Youth in
"They were carrying heavy weapons including rifles used by
the Libyan army during (Muammar) Gadaffi's rule," he said.
"They also had rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns."
Algeria's government is implacably at odds with Islamist
guerrillas who remain at large in the south, years after the
civil war through the 1990s in which some 200,000 people
Britain's Cameron, who warned people to prepare for bad news
and who cancelled a major policy speech on Friday to deal
with the situation, said he would have liked Algeria to have
consulted before the raid. Japan made similar complaints.
U.S. officials had no clear information on the fate of
Americans, though a U.S. military drone had flown over the
area. Washington, like its European allies, has endorsed
France's move to protect the Malian capital by mounting air
strikes last week and now sending 1,400 ground troops to
attack Islamist rebels.
The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the
dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which
produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria
depends for its export income, has raised questions over the
value of outwardly tough security measures.