Fate of seven Americans hostages unknown after bloody Algerian rescue op

Special to WorldTribune.com

WASHINGTON — Algeria’s armed forces on Jan. 17 attempted a rescue operation of foreign hostages held by Al Qaida at a natural gas facility.

[Reuters reported that, according to a source, six hostages and eights captors were killed when the Algerian military opened fire on a vehicle being used by the captors. Mauritania’s ANI news agency said seven hostages were still being held: two Americans, three Belgians, one Japanese and one British citizen. ANI and Al Jazeera reported that 34 hostages and 15 captors were killed in the Algerian military operation.]

Officials said Al Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb had captured
seven Americans in a raid of the Amenas gas field on Jan. 16.
They said the Americans were contractors at the southern gas facility,
operated by British Petroleum.

The gas field in Amenas, Algeria where Islamist militants claimed to have kidnapped up to 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in retaliation for France’s intervention in Mali.

“Beyond confirming that there are Americans among the hostages, I will ask you to respect our decision not to get into any further details as we try to secure these people,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Ms. Nuland said the administration of President Barack Obama was working with Algeria to secure the release of the hostages. She said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Algerian Prime Minister Abdul Malek Selal as well as the American ambassador in Algiers.

Officials said the hostages were still believed to be in the gas
facility some 100 kilometers from the Algerian border with Libya. They said AQIM used three vehicles in the early-morning attack on the In Amenas field in the southern town of Tigantourine. Britain said one of its nationals was killed in the raid.

Later, AQIM released some 100 Algerian employees while keeping the
foreigners hostage. Officials said the Islamist fighters were demanding the
release of 100 colleagues imprisoned in Algeria, transfer of 20 sports
utility vehicles as well as safe passage to Mali.

“The Algerian authorities will not respond to the demands of the
terrorists and will not negotiate,” Algerian Interior Minister Daho Kablia

This marked the first report of an AQIM abduction of Americans. Over the
last four years, Al Qaida has held hostage and executed European nationals,
including French and Germans. Officials said 20 AQIM fighters were deployed
in the latest attack.

AQIM said seven Americans were among 41 gas workers taken hostage in
Algeria. The raid, said to have been led by regional commander Mokhtar
Belmokhtar, was meant to retaliate for French air strikes on Al Qaida
targets in neighboring Mali, an operation assisted by the United States.

“I want to assure the American people that the United States will take
all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this
situation,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

Officials said the Algerian Army has deployed special forces units
outside In Amenas and was awaiting orders. They said a rescue operation could be undertaken
over the next day.

“People’s National Army forces and security services arrived on the
scene and immediately took all measures to secure the region and find a
quick solution to this situation, which is closely followed by the
authorities,” the Algerian Interior Ministry said.

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