18 January 2013

Algeria: Diplomatic Anger Over Algeria's Desert Action

Cairo — International officials Friday questioned the Algerian military's storming of a natural gas plant in the Sahara desert that led to a firefight with Islamic militants and the deaths of an undisclosed number of hostages, including Westerners and Asians.

The "rushed" desert storm has sparked diplomatic fury as many families are mourning and others remain in the dark as to the fate of their loved ones caught in the siege at the gas complex.

There was no clear indication of exactly how many hostages were killed or wounded in Thursday's assault. Conflicting reports continued to emerge. One source is quoted as saying 30 hostages have been killed and at least 22 remain unaccounted for, another has reported a US plane has landed at In Amenas to evacuate Americans.

The Algerian government said the army raid had ended while the British Foreign Office said the "terrorist incident remains ongoing." "The operation has enabled us to neutralise an important number of terrorists and to free a significant number of hostages. But unfortunately some people have been killed and injured. For the moment, we do not have definitive figures. We will communicate the details as soon as we have them," Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said Belaid said in a television interview.

Rebels laid siege to the gas complex two days ago. With the hostage drama entering its second day Thursday, Algerian security forces moved in, first with helicopter fire and then special forces, according to diplomats, a website close to the militants, and an Algerian security official. The government said it was forced to intervene because the militants were being stubborn and wanted to flee with the hostages.

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