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.

 

Turkey concedes including Assad in Syria talks

Trump to be sworn in as 45th US president

IS demolishes two more monuments in Palmyra

Iran losing hope of saving trapped firefighters

More than 40 jihadists killed in north Syria air strikes

Netanyahu congratulates ‘friend’ Trump in tweet

Israel denounces Belgian plan to interrogate ex-minister

Denmark grants soldiers permission to fight IS in Syria

Car bomb near Benghazi mosque wounds 12

UN calls IS destruction of Palmyra relics ‘war crime’

Armed settlers rescued from angry Palestinian villagers

Petition filed for Israeli court to return body of Bedouin

29 Yemen rebels killed by Saudi-led air strikes

Algeria’s Islamist parties unite ahead of April elections

British worker dies on Qatar 2022 World Cup site

Search continues for trapped Iran firefighters

Trump to retain envoy to anti-IS coalition

More than 20 firefighters feared dead in Tehran building collapse

Explosions in Gaza target Fatah member

UN expert tells Saudi to end ban on women driving

Desalination plant opens in Gaza to tackle water crisis

Syria’s Assad hopes rebels disarm after Astana talks

UN says 400,000 Syrian child refugees in Turkey not in school

Libya PM skips Davos to focus on electricity crisis

Greece, Cyprus insist peace deal must include Turkish withdrawal

Mistura to lead UN delegation at Astana Syria talks

Turkey slams French satire song about Istanbul attack

Saudi minister says kingdom to become ‘softer’ after reforms

Bahrain lifts ban on electronic Al-Wasat newspaper

Arab Israelis strike in protest over house demolitions

Iran sees Syria talks as opportunity to gain influence

Kuwait upholds sentence for three royals for insulting judges

Tunisia facing mounting calls against jail-for-joint law

Iran's oldest high-rise building on fire collapses

IMF says Egypt on track for next aid tranche

Bahrain police disperse Shiite protesters

Key Syria rebel group opts out of Astana peace talks

Moroccan Sufi ‘living master’ dies at 95

France says Iraqi jihadist among 2015 stadium bombers

Russia, Turkey stage first joint air strikes against IS in Syria

IS advances on terrified citizens of Syria’s Deir Ezzor

In path to greater executive power, Erdogan faces weak Turkey economy

Switzerland drops war crimes case against former Algerian defence minister

Patience wears thin in Iraq's Fallujah

Iraq forces 'liberate' eastern Mosul