Algerian gas field hostage toll rises


The death toll of the four-day siege at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria is now said to be about 80 people, making it one of the worst international hostage crises in decades.

A security source was quoted by Reuters as saying that Algerian forces had discovered the bodies of 25 hostages, which raised the total number killed to 48 and the total number of deaths to about 80.

The source also said that troops have captured six militants, while the hunt for others is still in progress.

According to a Japanese government source the Algerian government has informed Tokyo of the killing of nine Japanese personnel in the attack.

On Thursday, the siege took a bloody turn when Algerian troops stormed the gas facility and opened fire.

Survivors said that Algerian forces blasted several trucks in a convoy, which were carrying both hostages and militants.

During the siege, when the militants were driven from the residential barracks, around 700 Algerian workers and over 100 foreigners managed to escape; however, a number of captors remained in the industrial complex until Saturday.

"A security source said that Algerian forces had discovered the bodies of 25 hostages, which raised the total number killed to 48 and the total number of deaths to about 80."

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal is expected to address the media later today and provide detailed information on the attack.

On Wednesday, militants seized the base and captured the gas plant, which produces 10% of Algeria's total natural gas exports, and adjoining residential barracks.

The militants attacked the base in retaliation against the air strikes carried out by France on Islamist fighters in neighbouring Mali, which had begun five days earlier. The militants demanded an immediate end to the air strikes.

Algeria's decision to allow troops to storm the gas facility and the subsequent bloodshed has strained its relations with its Western allies, as some complained that the decision was taken without their consent.

Britain and France, however, have supported Algeria's military action.

In a statement broadcasted on television, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "Of course people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched this vicious and cowardly attack."

"We should recognise all that the Algerians have done to work with us and to help and coordinate with us. I'd like to thank them for that. We should also recognise that the Algerians too have seen lives lost among their soldiers," Cameron added.

Algerian state news service APS reported that the country's Oil Minister Youcef Yousfi visited the site and said that physical damage to the plant was minor.

Yousfi was quoted by the agency as saying that the plant is expected to re-start operations in two days.

Image: In Amenas gas field in Algeria. Photo courtesy of Statoil.