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Deadly Assault Ends Hostage Crisis In Algeria

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, identified by the Algerian Interior Ministry as the leader of a militant Islamic group thought to be behind the kidnappings
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, identified by the Algerian Interior Ministry as the leader of a militant Islamic group thought to be behind the kidnappings
By RFE/RL
Officials in Algeria say they fear the death toll is set to rise in the aftermath of a hostage crisis at a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert.

A total of 23 foreigners and Algerians have officially been reported dead after Algerian forces stormed the In Amenas complex four days after it was siezed by Islamist militants protesting French intervention in Mali.

But Communications Minister Mohamed Said said the death toll may rise as individual countries continue the search for citizens still missing after the January 19 rescue operation.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that three Britons had been confirmed dead in the crisis and that an additional three are feared dead.

The United States says one American citizen was killed and other countries, including Japan, Norway, and Malaysia, have reported they still have citizens missing.

The Algerian government says 32 militants and 23 captives were killed during the standoff, while 685 Algerian employees and 107 foreigners were released.

The military also recovered machine guns, rifles, missiles, rocket launchers, and grenades attached to suicide belts.

The Algerian state oil company Sonatrach said the army was now clearing mines planted by the militants.

The plant at In Amenas, in southern Algeria near the Libyan border, is jointly run by BP, Sonatrach, and Norway's Statoil.

A statement from the kidnappers said the assault on the facility, which began on January 16, was in retaliation for French intervention against Islamist groups in neighboring Mali.

French President Francois Hollande expressed support for Algeria's tough reaction to the hostage-taking, saying its tactics were "the most adapted response to the crisis."

"There could be no negotiations" with terrorists, the French media quoted him as saying in the central French city of Tulle.

Hollande also said the hostages were "shamefully murdered" by their captors. He said that if there still were any need for France to justify its intervention in Mali, the events in Algeria provided it.

U.S. President Barack Obama blamed the deaths of hostages killed in Algeria on the "terrorists" who carried out the attack. He said on January 19 that the attack was a reminder of Al-Qaeda's continued threat.
 
"In the coming days, we will remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this," he added in a statement.

In Ademas, residents say they remain shaken by the violence of the past four days.

"People are here to work, not to make trouble," said one man. "This is a peaceful country, and if the terrorism stays here nothing of this area will be left. This is a sensitive area with oil and gas and a lot of people have been killed." He did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals from militants.

Another man, who also did not give his name, worried that foreign companies now might leave the area for fear of future terrorist attacks

"Now I think all the French companies want to leave and won't provide jobs. This is the problem," he said. "We were working and all was fine, but now after this, it is over. Everything will stop. There will be a big labor crisis."

The crisis has put the spotlight on Al-Qaeda-linked groups that roam the vast desert region, threatening vital infrastructure and energy interests.

The Algerian government said on January 19 that the militants came across the border from "neighboring countries."

The militants said they came from Niger, hundreds of kilometers to the south.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters

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