First Published: 2013-01-21

 

Two days after hostage crisis: Algeria exact death toll remains unknown

 

Governments scramble to track down missing citizens as more details emerge after final showdown between Algerian special forces, extremists.

 

Middle East Online

By Amal Belalloufi - IN AMENAS (Algeria)

Grim news

Two days after Algerian forces ended a hostage crisis at a desert gas plant, the exact toll of those killed in the bloodbath remained unknown Monday, amid fears the total number of hostages who died could reach 50.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was expected to unveil the final grim tally at a 1330 GMT press conference on Monday.

"I fear that it (the death toll) may be revised upward," Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said told a radio station earlier.

Governments scrambled to track down missing citizens as more details emerged after the final showdown on Saturday between special forces and extremists who had taken hundreds hostage, demanding an end to French military intervention in Mali.

The interior ministry reported Saturday that 23 foreign and Algerian hostages were killed during the siege of the In Amenas gas plant in the deep Sahara desert, which ended with Algerian forces storming the remaining part of the complex still in militant hands.

Algeria's private Ennahar television reported that 25 bodies were discovered at the plant on Sunday, while French daily El-Watan gave a toll of 30 hostages found dead at the site the same day.

Survivors' photos showed bodies riddled with bullets, some with their heads half blown away by the impact of the gunfire.

"They were brutally executed," said an Algerian who identified himself as Brahim, after escaping the ordeal, referring to Japanese victims gunned down by the hostage-takers.

Witnesses have said nine Japanese people connected to plant builder JGC were killed in the 72-hour ordeal. One Japanese man who survived gave a chilling account published Monday in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper.

The unidentified man was quoted as telling colleagues how the gunmen had dragged him from his barricaded room, handcuffed him and executed two hostages standing nearby.

"I was prepared to die," he said, before his captors abandoned him and other hostages who had been bundled into a vehicle that came under a hail of bullets. He then trudged for an hour through the desert to safety.

A Japanese delegation led by the deputy foreign minister arrived at the In Amenas hospital on Monday to arrange the repatriation of the bodies of the Japanese victims, a journalist reported.

The Philippine government said on Monday that six Filipino hostages were among the dead, killed "mostly by gunshot wounds and the effects of the explosions."

Ennahar reported on Monday that two of the slain hostage-takers were Canadian nationals. It also reported that five Islamists were captured alive at the plant on Sunday.

The Algerian interior ministry had said on Saturday that 32 kidnappers were killed in the standoff and the army freed 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the hostage-taking as an "act of war" because of the large number of hostages involved -- the biggest since the 2008 attack by Islamist extremists on the Indian city of Mumbai.

The one-eyed mastermind of the hostage-taking, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, said in a video posted online that it was carried out by 40 fighters from the Muslim world and "European countries".

His Al-Qaeda-linked group "Signatories in Blood" threatened to stage attacks on nations involved in the French-led operation to evict Islamists from Algeria's neighbour Mali, and said it had been open to negotiations.

"But the Algerian army did not respond... preferring to stage an attack which led to the elimination of the hostages," it said in a message published by the Mauritanian news agency ANI.

Most hostages were freed on Thursday in the first Algerian rescue operation, which was initially viewed by foreign governments as hasty, before the focus of public condemnation turned on the jihadists.

The In Amenas plant is run by Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and Sonatrach of Algeria.

An Algerian employee of BP who identified himself as Abdelkader said he was at a security post on Wednesday with colleagues when he saw a jeep with seven people inside smash through the barrier and screech to a halt.

One of the militants demanded their mobile phones and ordered them not to move, before disabling the security cameras.

"He said: 'You are Algerians and Muslims, you have nothing to fear. We're looking for Christians, who kill our brothers in Mali and Afghanistan and plunder our resources'."

 

Drone strike kills at least 30 ‘Qaeda’ suspects in south Yemen

Without proof, France fires new chemical accusations at Assad regime

Kuwait shuts two papers for breaking news blackout on 'coup tape'

Twitter seeks to end ‘war’ with Erdogan: Two ‘leak accounts’ blocked!

Female candidates push rights issue to fore of Iraq election campaign

Rouhani engages in sweet talk: Iran women not second class citizens

Involvement in violent protests sends Morsi supporters behind bars

Suicide bomber targets Imam Kadhim University in Baghdad

Worse yet to come in South Sudan: Three-year-old nation on brink of collapse

Assad visits Maalula to celebrate ‘victory’ and ‘Easter’

Islamists kill 11 soldiers in worst attack on Algeria army in years

Kidnappers of Tunisian diplomat demand jailed Libyans release

Landmine blasts Tunisia soldier amid growing jihadist threat

Marzouki sets an 'example' by cutting salary by two-thirds

Rouhani: Iran does not intend to be aggressive but can defend itself

Turkey to Russia: We demand a gas price revision

An extraordinary meeting: Gulf ministers agree to end tension with Qatar

US releases $450 million Iranian frozen assets

‘Retaliation is life’ group vows to attack Egypt security forces

For Massacre-scarred Algeria village, peace is worth more than wealth

An act of heroism: Iraq policeman sacrifices himself to shield army recruits

UK ‘determined to catch’ killer of Libya embassy policewoman

Experts: Washington demanded removal of Saudi spy chief

Future of Algeria on wheelchair

Palestinians rally for solidarity with Israel-held prisoners

Turkey may clinch bid to dismantle Italy’s wrecked ship

Israeli, Palestinian negotiators to hold meeting with US envoy

UN ‘gravely concerned’ about South Sudan oil state fighting

South Sudan war: Child soldiers consumed by desire for retribution

Algerians casting their vote for president

Syria world’s most perilous country fro journalists

Egypt jails ex-presidential hopeful for fraud

Egypt leftist leader urges all revolutionary groups to unite

Jordan ‘destroyed’ combat vehicles entering from Syria

South Sudan army loses key oil town of Bentiu

Lebanon parliament soon to elect new president

Zarif to discuss Caspion Sea states in Russia

MERS spreading in Saudi Arabia

Algeria finally opens its piggybank to lure back exiled youth

Suicide bombs rock Ramadi government compound

Three Palestinians killed in Gaza blast

Peace talks delayed after Palestine blamed for fatal shooting

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in Al-Aqsa

Undercover New York police unit that spied on Muslims disbanded

Washington will not issue visa for Iran UN envoy