7 hostages, 11 militants dead after raid: Algeria
AFP and APAIN AMENAS/ALGIERS, Algeria -- Algeria's special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara Desert in a final assault Saturday, killing 11 militants, but not before they in turn killed seven hostages, the state news agency reported.
January 20, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
“The Algerian army took out 11 terrorists, and the terrorist group killed seven foreign hostages,” the report said.
“The assault took place mid-morning. Eleven terrorists lost their lives and seven foreign hostages died. We think they were killed in retaliation,” a security source told AFP earlier.
The report, quoting a security source, didn't specify if any hostages or militants remained alive or give the nationalities of the dead.
Algerian authorities estimated that around 30 militants occupied the Ain Amenas site Wednesday and with 18 already reported dead, it appears the hostage crisis involving hundreds of plant workers is finally over.
On Saturday the militants themselves had reported they were still holding three Belgian, two Americans, a Japanese and a Briton.
Amid a virtual news blackout in Algiers, harshly criticized by local media, world leaders took a tough stand on the fate of the remaining hostages.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Washington would “take all necessary steps to protect our people” from the threat of al-Qaida-affiliated militants in North Africa.
Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida of her deep concern “about those who remain in danger. Utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life.”
At least one American has been confirmed dead.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered his government to do everything possible to ensure the safety of those Japanese unaccounted for in “an extremely despicable” incident that “can never be forgiven.”
“I would like you to do your best to confirm the safety of the Japanese and rescue them by using every possible means,” Abe told top officials after cutting short a trip to Southeast Asia.
An Algerian security official put the number of foreign hostages at 10, but more workers remain unaccounted for, including at least 10 Japanese and eight Norwegians.Norway's Statoil, which jointly operates the site with Britain's BP and Sonatrach of Algeria, said two Norwegians have been found alive but six others remain unaccounted for.
The gunmen, cited by Mauritania's ANI news agency, said on Saturday they were still holding “seven foreign hostages,” denying claims of more. On Friday, they gave a breakdown of three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and a Briton, although Belgium said there was no indication any of its nationals were being held.
The fate of two Malaysians believed caught up in the crisis remains unknown, Kuala Lumpur said, while Romania said three of its citizens had been freed. France said on Saturday that no more of its citizens were being held.