12 hostages dead in Algerian standoff

The bloody three-day hostage standoff at a natural gas plant in the Sahara took a dramatic turn yesterday as Algeria’s state news service reported that nearly 100 of the 132 foreign workers kidnapped by Islamic militants had been freed.

12 hostages dead in  Algerian   standoff

The news came as Irish hostage, 36-year-old father- of-two Stephen McFaul, was expected to return home to his native west Belfast

That number of hostages at the remote desert facility was significantly higher than any previous report, but it still left questions about the fate of over 30 other foreign energy workers. It wasn’t clear how the government arrived at the latest tally of hostages, which was far higher than the 41 foreigners the militants had claimed previously.

Algeria’s state news agency also reported that a “provisional toll” shows 12 hostages have been killed since the start of the Algerian military operation to free workers kidnapped by militants at the plant.

The APS news agency quoted an unidentified security source for the new death toll and said the fatalities include both Algerian and foreign workers.

That hostage death toll would be more than double the one APS had reported earlier. The new sagency said 18 militants had been killed.

Yet the report that nearly 100 workers were safe could indicate a breakthrough in the confrontation that began when the militants seized the plant early Wednesday.

US officials said that one American worker at the complex, Texas resident Frederick Buttaccio, has been found dead there, but that it was unclear how he died. The Obama administration was seeking to secure the release of other Americans still being held by the militants.

France said one Frenchman has been killed during the raid by Algerian forces. The Foreign Ministry identified him as Yann Desjeux, without providing additional information. The ministry said three other French hostages are now free, but didn’t say if any French citizens remain in captivity.

The militants, meanwhile, offered to trade two captive US workers for two terror figures jailed in the US, according to a statement received by a Mauritanian news site that often reports news from north African extremists.

The US State Department confirmed some Americans are still being held hostage in Algeria. Asked about a militant offer to trade two American hostages for jailed terror figures in the US, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists”.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton urged Algeria to do everything possible to protect the remaining hostages.

Clinton said that in her conversation yesterday with Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal she emphasised that “the utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life”.

It was not clear if the remaining foreigners were still captive or had died in the military offensive to free them that began on Thursday. The desert siege erupted on Wednesday when the militants attempted to hijack two buses at the plant, were repulsed, and then seized the sprawling refinery, which is 1,300km south of Algiers. The militants had seized hundreds of workers from 10 nations at Algeria’s remote Ain Amenas natural gas plant. The overwhelming majority were Algerian and were freed almost immediately.

BP evacuated one US citizen along with other foreign energy workers from Algeria to Mallorca and then London. The oil giant said three flights left Algeria on Thursday, carrying 11 BP employees and several hundred energy workers from other companies.

A fourth plane was taking more people out of the country yesterday, BP said.

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