First Published: 2013-01-17


Hostage-takers accuse Algeria of killing 50 in air strikes


Algerian media report that 15 foreigners, 30 Algerian hostages have escaped but authorities could not confirm this.


Middle East Online

By Beatrice Khadige – ALGIERS

Islamists: Chief hostage-taker Abu al-Baraa among dead

Algerian troops Thursday launched strikes on a gas complex where Islamists are holding dozens of foreigners killing nearly 50 people, most of them hostages, the kidnappers said.

Britain, France and Norway, all of which have nationals among the hostages, confirmed an operation was underway at the remote site attacked on Wednesday in retaliation for a week-old military assault in neighbouring Mali.

Algerian media reported that 15 foreigners and 30 Algerian hostages had escaped the complex but authorities could not confirm this.

A member of the "Signatories for Blood", a group which has claimed the brazen hostage-taking at the In Amenas gas field near the Libyan border, said Thursday that Algerian troops had attacked the site.

"Thirty-four hostages and 15 kidnappers were killed in an (air) raid by the Algerian army," the spokesman told Mauritanian news agency ANI, adding that among the dead was the chief hostage taker Abu al-Baraa.

His group had claimed to be holding 41 foreigners, including French, British and American citizens along with dozens of Algerian staff. Several countries have also said they have nationals at the site.

The Nouakchott-based ANI often carries reliable reports from Al-Qaeda linked groups.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said that the "Algerian authorities have confirmed that there is an ongoing operation" but there was no official word from Algiers.

The hostage drama dragged Algiers and several top Western powers into the Mali conflict, taking the spotlight off French and government troops battling the Islamists controlling the country's vast desert north.

Veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian with ties to Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for attacking the plant, jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and state-run Algerian energy firm Sonatrach.

"We demand the Algerian army pull out from the area to allow negotiations" to end the drama, Abu al-Baraa, had earlier told the Al-Jazeera news channel.

He also said Algerian snipers had opened fire at the site where the hostages were held, injuring a Japanese national. Algeria has insisted it would not negotiate with the gunmen.

Al-Baraa confirmed there were "around 41" hostages from several countries -- Austria, Norway, France, the United States, Britain, Romania, Colombia, Thailand, the Philippines, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and Germany.

The one-eyed jihadist Belmokhtar was until recently one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but was pushed out of the group towards the end of last year. He has been blamed for previous abductions and the killings of both Algerians and foreigners.

The UN special envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, said underscored that the French intervention in Mali was the only way to stop Islamists creating "a terrorist safe haven in the heart of Africa".

"I'm not a warmonger and in the past, faced with other episodes of war, as in Libya, I expressed doubts. But in this case, it seems to me that there were no other means of action to avoid the worst," the Italian former prime minister told the newspaper L'Unita.

On Thursday, more French troops poured into Mali, boosting their number to 1,400, the defence minister said. At full strength the force will be made-up of 2,500 soldiers.

Contingents from Chad and Nigeria for an eventual African force of over 5,000 troops in Mali were also expected to arrive Thursday.

A French defence ministry source said there were "clashes in several areas" in the conflict zone, but "no fighting in the area of Diabaly" some 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Bamako.

The French army chief of staff, Bertrand Ract-Madoux, meanwhile said that the recently deployed reinforcements included infantry, armour, supply and logistics units deployed under the Guepard (Cheetah) rapid-reaction system.

Rebels who have controled northern Mali since April pushed south into government-held territory last week and seized Konna, about 700 kilometres (400 miles) by road from the capital Bamako, prompting France to intervene.


Top US general visits airbase in fight for Mosul

No Russian air strikes on Aleppo in 7 days

Thousands of Yemenis await lifting of Coalition blockade

Iran calls for more Asian investment

Egypt rolls out austerity programme

25 travelling on inflatable dinghy found dead in Mediterannean

Villages reclaimed, but return still distant for Iraqi Christians

Turkey says will clear Kurdish fighters from Manbij

Russia cancels warship fuel stop after pressure on Spain to refuse permission

US, UK expect Raqa offensive within weeks

Sudan's Bashir to appoint PM for first time since coup

Israel army says soldier wounded by gunfire on Lebanese border

Students among 22 dead as raids hit Syria school

Israel charges 13 Jews with celebrating murder of Palestinians

Revolutionary Guards commander says Iranian firms should lead oil projects

Egyptian officer accidentally shoots dead Israeli teen

IS members ‘shave beards’ as Iraqi forces approach Mosul

US praises Qatar moves to deny jihadists funds

Clashes between protesters, police in Diyarbakir after Turkey arrests mayors

Saudi financial position strong despite oil prices says minister

Iran develops 'suicide drone'

UN envoy to Yemen presents peace proposal to Huthis

Turkey says US must extradite Gulen to avoid damaging ties

Mosul survivors recount fleeing IS 'caliphate'

Report finds Israeli forces could have avoided killings

NATO flies first surveillance mission backing anti-IS coalition

Russian FM says Mosul offensive equivalent to Moscow's Aleppo bombing

Saudi Arabia denies it imposed Yemen blockade

Syria Kurds say Turkey wants to prevent Raqa recapture

Anger at Israel national theatre show in occupied West Bank

UN receives reports of dozens of IS atrocities near Mosul

Hundreds protest against UN 'complicity' in rebel-held Yemen capital

Turkey FM says ground operation in Iraq a possibility

Iraqi forces retake town from IS

Iran nuclear negotiator cleared of spying charges

Al-Shabaab in suicide bomb attack on AU base in Somalia

Gunmen kill two policemen in eastern Saudi Arabia

Iraqi paramilitary to block IS from fleeing Mosul for Syria

Two imams arrested in Ibiza over 'Islamic State support'

US general raises Yemen concerns with Saudi officials

Iraqi forces advancing on Mosul face stiff resistance

At least 10 hurt in southern Turkey explosion

French FM annoys Turkey by contrasting states of emergency

UN planning for 150,000 displaced by Mosul battle

UAE jails Sudanese man for planning attacks on immigrants