(Breaking Updates) Panetta Calls Algeria Hostage Taking “a Terrorist Attack”
Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta meets with British Prime Minister, David Cameron, at 10 Downing Street in London, England, Jan. 18, 2013. Panetta is on a six day trip to Europe to visit with foreign counterparts and troops in the area. (DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)
Excerpts from a CNN update at 6:50 PM EST, Jan. 17:
British Prime Minister David Cameron warned his compatriots to prepare for “bad news ahead” related to kidnapping of dozens of hostages at a gas facility in Algeria.
Nearly 600 workers and four foreign nationals — two Scots, a Kenyan and a French citizen — were free by late Thursday after an operation launched by Algeria’s military, according to the state-run Algerian Press Service.
Yet some hostages are still presumably being held, and the crisis is far from over.
“It is a fluid situation, it is ongoing,” Cameron told the Reuters news agency. “But I think we should be prepared for the possibility of further bad news, very difficult news, in this extremely difficult situation.”
The Algerian military operation was over by Thursday evening, according to the Algerian Press Service. At that point, there was no immediate indication as to how many hostages were still being held, what their condition was or if future action would be taken.
The kidnappers have AK-47 rifles and put explosives-laden vests on some of the hostages, a U.S. State Department official said. It is not clear whether the hostage takers wore the suicide vests when they staged the action, another U.S. official said.
The attackers put the number of hostages at “more than 40,” including seven Americans, two French, two British and other Europeans. Another Islamist group told the Mauritanian News Agency there were 41 “Westerners.”
The APS, though, reported that just over 20 foreign nationals were being held.
An unspecified number of Americans are among the hostages held by terrorists at BP’s In Amenas facility in Algeria, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. There could be as few as three American hostages, two U.S. officials said Wednesday.
One of the kidnapped Americans is a Texas man, a family member told CNN.
“This incident will be resolved — we hope — with a minimum loss of life,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “But when you deal with these relentless terrorists, life is not in any way precious to them.”
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The military operation to free hostages at a desert gas plant is now over, the Algerian state news agency reports.
Four foreigners were reportedly freed but up to 34 hostages and 14 kidnappers died in the operation against Islamic militants, according to APS.
The British government said it had been told the gas plant was still being searched and the number of casualties was still unconfirmed.
Al-Qaeda-linked fighters occupied the facility near In Amenas on Wednesday.
Algerian state television says four foreigners were killed in the operation by Algerian forces to liberate hostages held by militants in a remote natural gas complex.
British government sources have told the BBC that they are preparing for news of multiple British casualties.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson says ministers are still awaiting information from the Algerian govt on the number of British dead, injured and missing.
Hundreds of Algerian workers and some foreign workers were reported to have escaped during the military operation.
Thirty-four hostages and 14 of their al Qaeda-linked kidnappers were killed on Thursday in an air strike by the Algerian armed forces, Mauritania’s ANI news agency reported, citing one of the kidnappers holding captives at a desert gas field.
It was not immediately possible to independently verify the information from the agency, which has close contact with the group which has claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping.
ANI reported that the spokesman for the kidnappers said they would kill the rest of their captives if the army approached
Algerian forces have moved against Islamic militants holding hostages at a gas facility in eastern Algeria, the state news agency reports.
Four foreign hostages were freed but the operation resulted in a number of “victims”, APS agency said.
Reports quoting militants said at least 34 hostages and 14 kidnappers died.
Militants also told Mauritania’s ANI news agency that seven foreign hostages were still alive after the Algerian military raid.
Nearly 600 Algerian workers and four foreign hostages – two from Scotland, one from France and one from Kenya – were freed during the operation, APS reported.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, presently in Italy as part of a European trip, has confirmed that Americans are among those taken hostage in southern Algeria today when terrorists attacked and occupied a natural gas plant.
The following is some of what Panetta said on the terrorist attack in Algeria:
“The United States strongly condemns these kinds of terrorist acts. It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage, along with others.”
“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.”
Panetta said he does not yet know whether there is a link between the attack in Algeria and the French operation in Mali, but he said, “it is for that reason that we have always been concerned about their presence in Mali — because they would use it a base of operations to do exactly what happened in Algeria. That’s the kind of thing that terrorists do.”
In what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta calls a “terrorist attack,” Islamist militants have seized a gas field in Algeria and taken more than 20 foreign hostages, including Americans (CNN reports the militants seized more than 40 foreign hostages) in what could be the first retribution for the French-led military intervention in Mali.
The New York Times cites Algerian officials saying that at least two people have been killed, including one British national, and that the hostages include American, British, French, Norwegian and Japanese citizens.
Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters in Washington that an unidentified number of American citizens were believed to be among the hostages, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, traveling in Italy, appeared to raise the possibility that the United States may take military action in response.
“By all indications this is a terrorist act,” Mr. Panetta said. “It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage along with others.” He also said: 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.”
The attack occurred at the fourth largest gas development in Algeria, and at its gas compression plant, which is operated by BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach, according to the Times.
Also, “Bard Glad Pedersen, a Statoil spokesman, said that of 17 Statoil employees working in the field, only four were able to safely escape to a nearby Algerian military camp.”
According to CNN, at least one foreigner died in the attack and Algerian media later reported, “a second person, a British national, was killed as well.”
While not all the nationalities of the foreigners who have been taken hostage or killed are known, apparently 13 Norwegians, British nationals, “some Americans” and possibly an Irish citizen are involved. “The office of the French president has refused to comment on reports that French citizens are among the hostages,” according to CNN.
Also, according to CNN:
An Islamist group claiming the attack told the Mauritanian News Agency and Sahara Media that 41 “Westerners including seven Americans, (as well as) French, British and Japanese citizens have been taken hostage.”