US & World

Deadly hostage crisis continues at natural gas plant in Algeria

Islamist militants raided the In Amenas natural gas field (pictured) in Algeria on Wednesday.
Islamist militants raided the In Amenas natural gas field (pictured) in Algeria on Wednesday.

The crisis continues at a remote desert gas plant in eastern Algeria, where Islamic militants seized a large number of hostages on Wednesday, government forces fought to free them on Thursday and a number of deaths — among both hostages and their captors — were being reported on Friday.

Though it was being reported that some of the hostages, who officials say included Americans and other foreigners, had either escaped or been freed, there was also word early Friday that some militants and captives were still somewhere in the sprawling facility.

Much remains unknown. As The Associated Press writes, "Algeria's government has kept a tight grip on information, but it was clear that the militant assault that began Wednesday has killed at least six people from the factory — and perhaps many more."

The militants reportedly seized the hostages in retaliation for France's military intervention in neighboring Mali. Islamist extremists have taken control of parts of Mali, and it's feared they will use the country as a base to launch terrorist attacks elsewhere.

As we did on Thursday, we're focusing on stories from news outlets with reporters who have sources that should have knowledge about what's happening. There will still be a great deal of conflicting information, however. We'll keep sifting through it and updating as the day continues.

Some of the early reports:

-- Other Nations Not Alerted Before Raid. "The U.S., Britain, Japan and other nations [whose citizens are among the hostages] say they were not consulted by Algeria or alerted about Thursday's raid on the gas facility by that nation's security forces," NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Mali. "Algeria says it responded with force to prevent the hostage-takers from leaving the remote facility with foreign hostages, which could have escalated into an ever greater crisis."

-- Algerian Officials Defend Action. "The Algerian government, which fought a civil war with Islamist militants that killed more than 100,000 people in the 1990s, sought to justify its raid on the gas complex at In Amenas, which is run by BP; Statoil, a Norwegian firm; and Sonatrach, the Algerian national oil company," writes the Los Angeles Times. " 'Those who think we will negotiate with terrorists are delusional,' Mohamed Said Belaid, Algeria's communications minister, told state media. 'Those who think we will surrender to their blackmail are delusional.' "

-- Higher Death Estimates "Exaggerated." "Estimates of the foreign casualties ranged from 4 to 35, though one Algerian official said the higher figure was 'exaggerated,' " The New York Times reports.

-- It's An "Ongoing Operation." "In a statement to the House of Commons, British prime minister David Cameron said the Algerian mission to rescue the ... hostages was an 'ongoing operation,' " says The Guardian.

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