In Amenas (Algiers): Islamists killed all seven of their remaining foreign captives on Saturday before being gunned down at a gas plant in the Algerian desert, state media said, ending one of the bloodiest international hostage crises in years.
The 11 heavily armed men from a group known as “Signatories in Blood” had been holed up at the remote In Amenas complex near the Libya border since they took hundreds of workers hostage in a dawn attack on Wednesday.
Most of the hostages, including 573 Algerians and about 100 foreigners, had been freed after Algerian forces launched a rescue operation on Thursday, which was widely condemned as hasty, but some 30 rem-ained unaccounted for.
In Saturday’s final assault, “the Algerian army took out 11 terrorists, and the terrorist group killed seven foreign hostages,” state television said.
It did not give the nationalities of those who died. A security official who spoke to AFP as army helicopters overflew the plant deep in the Sahara near the Libyan border gave the same death tolls, adding that it was believed the foreigners “were killed in retaliation”.
British Defence Secretary Philip Hamm-ond said the four-day crisis had been “brought to an end by a further assault by Algerian forces, which has resulted in further loss of life”.
Foreign secretary William Hague said Britain must prepare itself for “bad news,” and that “the large majority” of Britons originally caught up in the crisis were safe, with “fewer than 10” at risk or unaccounted for.
The final death tolls, of both foreign and Algerian hostages and of gunmen, were not yet known.
The gunmen, cited by Mauritania’s ANI news agency, had said earlier they were still holding “seven foreign hostages”.
They had given a breakdown of three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and a Briton, although Brussels said there was no indication any of its nationals were being held.
A security official had put the remaining number of foreign hostages at 10. After the assault, a security official said 25-27 foreign and Algerian hostages had been killed during the four-day crisis, but the exact number of those seized and still unaccounted for was unclear.
The hostage-taking was the largest since the 2008 Mumbai attack in Novermber.