STATE DEPARTMENT —
U.S. officials said Algerian operations against militants holding hostages near the Libyan border are "still ongoing."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the situation in Algeria is "extremely difficult and dangerous." She spoke Friday for a third straight day with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.
"He made clear that their operation was still ongoing, that the situation remained fluid, that the hostages remain in danger in a number of instances," said Clinton. "But in the interest of their security, I am not going to provide any further details at this time."
Algerian forces Thursday attacked the natural gas facility where militants were
holding dozens of foreigners and hundreds of Algerians hostage. It is still not known who controls how much of that facility and how many people have been killed in the fighting.
Secretary Clinton said she urged the Algerian prime minister "that the utmost care be taken in the protection of the hostages." But it is clear now that there have been fatalities.
"The United States extends our condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones in this brutal assault, and we remain deeply concerned about those who remain in danger," said Clinton.
Algeria's state news agency said nearly 100 foreign hostages have been freed, with more than 30 others still unaccounted for. Hostages at the site are believed to include nationals from the United States, Britain, Japan, Norway, Romania, the Philippines, France, Malaysia and Austria.
Asked if the Obama administration is critical of Algeria's decision to attack the hostage takers, Secretary Clinton said, "no one knows better than Algeria how ruthless these groups are."
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
Formed in the 1990's to fight Algeria's secular government
Wants to rid North Africa of western influence and impose sharia
Estimated to have amassed $100 million in kidnapping ransoms
"Let's not forget: This is an act of terror. The perpetrators are the terrorists," she said.
"They are the ones who have assaulted this facility, have taken hostage Algerians and others from around the world who were going about their daily business," Continued Clinton. "And it is absolutely essential that while we work to resolve this particular terrible situation, we continue to broaden and deepen our counter-terrorism cooperation."
Algerian militants said they attacked the natural gas facility in retaliation for French military action against Islamist rebels in neighboring Mali. And they are threatening more such attacks against Western targets. The Algeria hostage-takers are affiliated with the Mali rebels as part of the loosely-organized terrorist group Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.