Algiers, Algeria, 6 Rabiul Awwal 1434 H/18 January 2013 (MINA) – Thirty-four hostages and 15 kidnappers have been killed in southern Algeria. Thursday’s reported deaths came a day after dozens of foreigners and Algerians were taken hostage by heavily armed fighters near the In Amenas gas field.
The fighters said they seized the hostages in retaliation for Algeria letting France use its airspace to launch operations against rebels in northern Mali.
The spokesman for the Masked Brigade, which had claimed responsibility for the abductions on Wednesday, told Mauritanian ANI news agency that the deaths were a result of an Algerian government helicopter attack on a convoy transporting hostages and kidnappers.
The official Algerian APS news agency quoted by Mi’raj News Agency (MINA), citing local sources, said an unspecified number of people were killed in the military rescue attempt. It said nearly 600 Algerian workers and four foreign hostages – two Britain, two Britons, a Frenchman and a Kenyan – had been freed during the operation. The Irish foreign ministry said an Irish man had also been freed.
Algerian media, citing officials, reported that 15 foreigners and 30 Algerians had managed to escape. The Masked Brigade spokesman said Abou el-Baraa, the leader of the kidnappers, was among those killed in the helicopter attack. He said the fighters would kill the rest of their captives if the army approached.
Algeria has refused to negotiate with what it says is a band of about 20 fighters. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould dismissed theories that the fighters had come from Libya, 100km away, or from Mali, more than 1,000km away.
He said the well-armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaeda’s strongman in the Sahara. ANI, which has been in constant contact with the al-Qaeda-affiliated kidnappers, said seven hostages were still being held: two Americans, three Belgians, one Japanese and one British citizen.
Norwegians, French, Romanian and Malaysian citizens were also among those taken hostage. The White House said it believed Americans were among the hostages and was concerned about reports of loss of life. “This is an ongoing situation and we are seeking clarity,” spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi, who is now in Algeria, urged the Algerian government to put an “immediate end” to the military operation. Britain was not given prior notice of the Algerian government operation to release hostages and would have preferred to have been informed, Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said.
A Briton was among two people killed on Wednesday, after fighters launched an ambush of a bus carrying employees from the gas plant to the nearby airport. The In Amenas gas field is jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s Sonatrach.
France launched a major offensive against the rebel group Ansar al-Dine in Mali on January 11 to prevent them from advancing on the capital, Bamako. Algeria had long warned against military intervention against the rebels, fearing the violence could spill over the border.(T/R-009/R-006)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)