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Cameron: Fewer than 30 Britons still caught up in Algeria crisis

January 18, 2013|By Henry Chu
  • Prime Minister David Cameron updates lawmakers Friday about the hostage crisis in Algeria.
Prime Minister David Cameron updates lawmakers Friday about the hostage… (Press Association / EPA )

LONDON – After warning his compatriots to brace themselves for “bad news,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday that there were now significantly fewer than 30 Britons still caught up in the crisis in Algeria but that the country’s armed forces were “still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas” of the energy plant under siege.

Cameron told lawmakers that Friday morning he had spoken to his Algerian counterpart, who assured him that “they are now looking at all possible routes to resolve this crisis” after completing the first phase of their strike against the militants.

But Cameron reiterated that he had not been notified of the Algerian military's assault until it was already underway, in spite of having urged the Algerians to consult leaders of countries affected.

“We were not informed of this in advance. I was told by the Algerian prime minister [Thursday] while it was taking place. He said that the terrorists had tried to flee, that they judged there to be an immediate threat to the lives of the hostages and had felt obliged to respond,” Cameron said in an appearance in the House of Commons.

As of Friday morning, the number of British nationals involved in the crisis was “significantly reduced” from the fewer than 30 believed caught up in the situation Thursday night, Cameron said.

Separately, BP, one of the joint operators of the facility at In Amenas in the Sahara Desert, said that the status of “a small number” of its employees was still unknown.

Three flights full of workers, including 11 BP employees, left Algeria on Thursday, and another is expected to leave Friday, BP said in a statement.

Statoil, the Norwegian energy company, said the fate of eight of its employees remained uncertain.

Cameron said that additional civilian aircraft had been put on standby to assist BP with the evacuation.

Cameron confirmed that at least one Briton was killed when the terrorists struck a convoy on its way to a nearby airfield early Wednesday. The attackers then turned their attention to a residential compound at the facility.

“It appears to have been a large, well-coordinated and heavily armed assault, and it is probable that it had been preplanned,” said Cameron, who, to deal with the crisis, canceled a trip to the Netherlands and a landmark speech he was to deliver Friday morning on Britain’s relations with the European Union.

“We need to be absolutely clear whose fault this is," Cameron said. "It is the terrorists who are responsible for this attack and for the loss of life. The action of these extremists can never be justified.”

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