Islamist militants took 41 foreigners hostage in a deadly raid on a BP gas plant in southern Algeria, regional media said on Wednesday. Three people were reported to have been killed in the attack, including one Briton and a French national.
Islamist militants took 41 foreigners hostage in a deadly raid on a BP gas field plant in southern Algeria, regional media said on Wednesday.
Three people were reported to have been killed in the attack, including a French national and one Briton. Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed the death on Thursday, calling the killing "cold-blooded murder".
According to Mauritanian news agencies ANI and Sahara Media, the militants said the attack was in retaliation to Algeria’s decision to allow France the use of its air space for air strikes targeting Islamist rebels in Mali.
The group also demanded an end to a French military operation in Mali in exchange for keeping the hostages safe.
In a phone interview with FRANCE 24 late Wednesday, a French national being held at the In Amenas gas field said the kidnappers “attacked two sites at the same time, they went inside and gathered everyone."
According to the hostage, who declined to be named, the attackers were well-armed and forced some of the hostages to wear belts strapped with explosives. FRANCE 24 could not verify if the testimony was made under duress.
As the attack raised fears of further acts of reprisal, President François Hollande said on Wednesday that he was in touch with Algeria’s government over the situation.
“I am in constant contact with the Algerian authorities who are doing, and will do, their duty. We are also in contact with the heads of state of the countries concerned,” he said.
The US also said that it was “closely monitoring” the hostage crisis, as the State Department confirmed that a number of those held at the plant were US citizens.
Throughout Wednesday there were conflicting reports of the number of hostages and their nationalities.
While Ireland’s Foreign Ministry said that one of its citizens had been abducted, up to five Japanese workers and a Norwegian national were also believed to be held hostage, as well as a number of French and American nationals.
The Associated Press quoted an unnamed Algerian official who said that troops had surrounded the kidnappers, whom BP said were still at the site, and that negotiations for the release of the hostages were ongoing.
According to Mauritanian news agency ANI the al Qaeda-linked Mulathamin Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack.
Oil giant BP confirmed there had been a “security incident” at its In Amenas gas field but could give no more details.
BP said British authorities had been advised about the incident. It did not say whether foreigners were taken away from the facility, only that the company was “setting up a helpline for relatives”.
The five Japanese work for the engineering firm JGC Corporation, a diplomatic source said. JGC has a deal with Sonatrach-BP-Statoil Association for work in gas production at In Amenas.
In Tokyo, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said it was gathering information on the situation but could not comment.
French Foreign Ministry officials also said they had no immediate comment and were trying to verify the reports.
Algeria has allowed France to use its air space during its military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali, although officials have yet to make a link between Wednesday’s attack and the conflict in Algeria’s southern neighbour.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-01-16