Algeria crisis: Obama blames ‘terrorists’ for deaths

Militants took Algerian and expatriate workers hostage at the desert complex

Militants took Algerian and expatriate workers hostage at the desert complex

US President Barack Obama has blamed “terrorists” for the death of at least 23 hostages at a besieged desert gas facility in Algeria.

A four-day siege at the In Amenas site was ended on Saturday by an army raid.

At least five Britons, five Norwegians and 10 Japanese are dead or missing, while Algeria said its troops had killed all 32 hostage-takers.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the US would go after al-Qaeda wherever they tried to hide.

“This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa,” said Mr Obama on Saturday.

“We will continue to work closely with all of our partners to combat the scourge of terrorism in the region.”

Mortars and RPGs

Details are still sketchy, but unconfirmed reports say the hostage-takers summarily killed the remaining seven hostages before themselves being killed in a final army raid on Saturday.State news agency APS said 685 Algerian workers and 107 out of 132 foreigners working at the plant had been freed, citing interior ministry figures.

The nationalities of some of the hostages killed are still not known.

The UK Foreign Office has confirmed that some British nationals caught up in the Algerian hostage crisis returned home overnight.

No details were released, but a spokesman said the foreign secretary would give an update later on Sunday.

The crisis began on Wednesday when militants attacked two buses carrying foreign workers the remote site in south-eastern Algeria. A Briton and an Algerian reportedly died in the incident.

The militants then took Algerians and expatriates hostage at the complex, which was quickly surrounded by the Algerian army.

A statement from the kidnappers said the assault on the gas plant was launched in retaliation for French intervention against Islamist groups in neighbouring Mali.

However, France only decided last week to intervene militarily in Mali. Analysts say the assault on the gas facility was well-planned and would have required advance research, as well as possibly inside help.

The leader of the hostage-takers was a veteran fighter from Niger, named as Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, which had been in contact with the militants.

The Algerian armed forces attacked on Thursday as militants tried to move some of their captives from the facility.

‘Suitable’ response

APS reported before Saturday’s second raid that a group of militants remained holed up in a workshop with the remaining hostages.

After the raid, the Algerian interior ministry said troops had recovered:

Six machine guns
21 rifles
two shotguns
two 60mm mortars with shells
six 60mm missiles with launchers
two rocket-propelled grenades with eight rockets
10 grenades in explosive belts
One Algerian worker, who gave his name only as Chabane, told the Associated Press that at one point the militants caught a man he described as a Briton.

“They threatened him until he called out in English to his friends, telling them, ‘Come out, come out, they’re not going to kill you. They’re looking for the Americans’,” Chabane told AP.

“A few minutes later, they blew him away,” he said. Chabane’s account could not be independently confirmed.

French President Francois Hollande defended the Algerian response to the crisis as being “the most suitable”.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said there was “no justification” for the hostage-taking.

“Our determination is stronger than ever to work with allies right around the world to root out and defeat this terrorist scourge and those who encourage it,” said Mr Cameron.

The In Amenas gas field is situated at Tigantourine, about 40km (25 miles) south-west of the town of In Amenas and 1,300km (800 miles) south-east of Algiers.

The plant is jointly run by BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s state-owned oil company.