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'."

 

Yemen warring parties back to peace talks table

UN warns Eastern Aleppo may soon become besieged

Is Erdogan-Davutoglu tandem coming to an end?

US troops facing growing risks in Iraq, Syria

Cafes, restaurants spring up in Tripoli

London set to elect its first Muslim Mayor

Fierce fighting rages in Aleppo as diplomacy efforts intensify

Riyadh's $22.5 bn Metro project on track

Egypt court sentences prominent activist to six months in prison

UK to take in more Syria child refugees

France to host Saudi, Qatar, UAE, Turkey FMs for Syria talks

US expects more military resources for anti-ISIS fight

Standoff escalates between Egypt journalists and authorities

Turkey says ready to send ground troops to Syria 'if necessary'

Hamas accuses Fatah of organising military cell in Gaza

Egypt court acquits Mubarak's last PM

Israel to upgrade ties with NATO as Turkey lifts veto

Passengers injured as Etihad flight hits severe turbulence

Israeli tanks fire shots over Gaza border

5th edition of Middle East Homeland Security Summit to be held in Amman in November

Money and revenge push Syrians to jihadist ranks

EU conditionally backs visa-free travel for Turks, overhauls asylum system

Airstrikes resume in Damascus as fighting 'freeze' ends

Relief in Yemen's Mukalla after year of al-Qaeda rule

Saudi oil minister visits Sudan to cement improving ties

Warnings for Assad as Syria talks shift to Berlin

Fierce clashes rage in Syria’s Aleppo

OPCW warns ISIS may be making chemical weapons

French court says 'Carlos the Jackal' must face trial for 1974 attack

UN demands protection of hospitals in armed conflicts

Jewish settler who led burning alive of Palestinian teen receives life sentence

Italy ready to raise shipwreck off Libya coast

Heavy airstrikes kill dozens in ISIS Syria bastion

Deadly intra-rebel clashes rock eastern part of Syria capital

German 'jihadist' goes on trial for Syria war crimes

Number of people held in solitary confinement doubles in Israel

UN fears operation near Mosul will displace 30,000 more Iraqis

Turkey Nobel Laureate shows solidarity with veteran writer, Murat Belge

Russian FM hopes for Aleppo ceasefire in 'next few hours'

Israel Labour mulls break with British party over anti-Semitism claims

Saudi to ensure Binladin Group resolves wage issues

Tens of thousands of Shiite pilgrims flock to Baghdad shrine

EU set to grant Turkey visa-free travel in migrant deal

Syria rebels strike hospital in regime-held Aleppo

US soldier feared killed in Iraq’s Kurdistan