37 foreigners killed in Algeria hostage crisis

Tuesday 22 January 2013 07.41
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Algeria says that 29 militants were killed during the siege
Algeria says that 29 militants were killed during the siege
Weapons recovered in the aftermath of siege in Algeria
Weapons recovered in the aftermath of siege in Algeria

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal has said that 37 foreign workers died in last week's hostage crisis.

Mr Sellal said that seven foreign workers are still missing after Islamist militants stormed the desert gas plant in In Amenas last Wednesday.

He also said that 29 militants had been killed and three captured alive in the siege.

Speaking during a news conference, Mr Sellal said that a Canadian national co-ordinated the militants' attack on the plant.

Algerian forces ended the siege on Saturday after storming the plant.

Seven Japanese nationals were among the dead.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that three other Japanese remain missing and unaccounted for.

Britain has said it will give Algeria counter-terrorism and intelligence aid to help dismantle the Islamist network that carried out the hostage attack.

Prime Minister David Cameron pledged a "strong security response" to the attack, and said North Africa was becoming a "magnet for jihadists", but did not promise any military intervention.

At least three British people were among those killed, and another three are feared to be among the dead.

One-eyed veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda.

"We in al-Qaeda announce this blessed operation," he said in a video, according to Sahara Media, a regional website.

The fighters swooped out of the desert and seized the base on Wednesday, capturing a plant that produces 10% of Algeria's natural gas exports, and residential barracks nearby.

They demanded an end to French air strikes against Islamist fighters in neighbouring Mali that had begun five days earlier.

However, US and European officials doubt such a complex raid could have been organised quickly enough to have been conceived as a direct response to the French military intervention.

The siege turned bloody on Thursday when the Algerian army opened fire, saying fighters were trying to escape with their prisoners.

Survivors said Algerian forces blasted several trucks in a convoy carrying both hostages and their captors.

Nearly 700 Algerian workers and more than 100 foreigners escaped, mainly on Thursday when the fighters were driven from the residential barracks.

Among them was west Belfast man Stephen McFaul, who has returned home to his family.

In a statement released through the PSNI, the 36-year-old engineer said his thoughts were with those who have lost loved ones and those families who are still awaiting news.

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