Algerian forces conducted a raid on a natural gas plant in the Sahara where hostages were being held by Islamists.
Thirty hostages and at least 11 Islamist militants were killed on Thursday when Algerian forces stormed a desert gas plant in a bid to free many dozens of Western and local captives, an Algerian security source said.
Details remained scant – including for Western governments, some of which did little to disguise irritation at being kept in the dark by Algeria before the raid and its bloody outcome.
Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed, the source told Reuters. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian. The nationalities of the rest, as well as of perhaps dozens more who escaped, were unclear.
Americans, Norwegians, Romanians and an Austrian have also been mentioned by their governments as having been captured.
Underlining the view of African and Western leaders that they face a multinational, al Qaeda-linked insurgency across the Sahara – a conflict that prompted France to send troops to neighboring Mali last week – the official source said only two of the 11 dead militants were Algerian, including their leader.
After an operation that appeared to go on for some eight hours, after Algeria refused the kidnappers’ demand to leave the country with their hostages, the bodies of three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman were found.
So too was that of Taher Ben Cheneb, an Algerian whom the security official described as a prominent jihadist commander in the Sahara.
The gunmen who seized the important gas facility deep in the desert before dawn on Wednesday had been demanding France halt its week-old offensive against Islamist rebels in Mali.
French President Francois Hollande said the hostage drama, which has raised fears of further militant attacks, showed that he was right to send more than 1,000 French troops to Mali to back up a West African force in support of Mali’s government.
An Algerian government spokesman, who confirmed only that an unspecified number of hostages had died, said the tough response to a “diehard” attitude by the militants showed that, as during its bloody civil war against Islamists in the 1990s, Algiers would not negotiate or stand for “blackmail” from “terrorists”.
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