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January 21, 2013

Algerian PM: 37 Foreign Workers Killed in Gas Complex Siege

by VOA News

Algeria's prime minister said 37 foreign workers were killed during the hostage crisis at a remote desert gas complex, with five others still missing.

​​In a news conference Monday, Abdelmalek Sellal offered Algeria's first detailed account of events at the In Amenas natural gas plant, where Islamist militants took dozens of hostages last Wednesday.

He said one Algerian was killed during the crisis, and that Algerian security forces killed 29 militants and captured three others during the operation to free the hostages. Sellal said at least one Canadian was among the militants.

The crisis began last Wednesday when Islamist militants intercepted a bus carrying some foreign workers to an airport near the gas compound. The Algerian prime minister said the attackers' initial goal was to hijack the bus and take the foreigners to neighboring Mali, to use as leverage in negotiations with foreign countries.

Sellal said Algerian guards fired on the bus, prompting the heavily-armed militants two split into two groups -- one that stormed the residential part of the complex and another that raided the industrial section and planted explosives around it.

​​More than 700 workers were caught up in the attack, among them 134 foreigners.  Most escaped as security forces staged an initial rescue attempt on Thursday.


The Algerian prime minister said the militants threatened to kill all of the foreigners they had taken hostage and began detonating some explosives late Friday, forcing the government to order the final assault. He praised the Algerian troops for carrying out what he called a "difficult" and "successful" operation.

Sellal said the foreign workers killed represented eight nationalities.   

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe confirmed that seven Japanese workers for engineering company JGC Corp. were killed, while three others were missing. Officials said six Filipinos also were killed, with another four missing.   Other victims included one American, one French citizen, one Romanian and three British workers.

Islamist militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the attack in the name of al-Qaida. In an Internet statement Sunday, he said 40 militants from Muslim and Western nations carried out the raid.  

Belmokhtar said the raid was in response to French military operations against other al-Qaida-linked militants in neighboring Mali.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday that responsibility for the killings "lies squarely" with what he called the "terrorists who launched this vicious and cowardly attack." French President Francois Hollande welcomed what he described as Algeria's "most appropriate" response to "coldly determined terrorists."

The foreign hostages included Americans, Austrians, Belgians, Britons, Colombians, French, Japanese, Malaysians, Norwegians and Romanians. The complex is jointly run by Algerian, British and Norwegian firms.