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7 hostages reported dead in 'final assault' on Algerian refinery

January 19, 2013|By Jeffrey Fleishman
  • This photo released by EADS' Astrium Press shows a satellite view of the town of In Amenas in the Sahara desert.
This photo released by EADS' Astrium Press shows a satellite view… (AFP Photo )

CAIRO — Algerian troops raided a remote natural gas refinery Saturday, killing 11 Islamic militants but not before extremists executed seven hostages who for days had been trapped in a deepening international crisis, according to media reports.

Algerian state media described the army mission as the “final assault” to end a hostage ordeal that began in the predawn Wednesday at a gas compound on the Algerian-Libyan border. It was not clear if the hostages killed were Algerians or foreigners.

"It is over now, the assault is over, and the military are inside the plant clearing it of mines," a local source familiar with the operation told Reuters.

The fate of as many as 30 foreign hostages, including an estimated seven Americans, remained unknown. Algerian forces discovered 15 burned bodies as they swept through the compound Saturday to rout heavily armed militants. The militants threatened to blow up the facility and a number of hostages were reported earlier to have been forced to wear explosive belts.  

The Algerian government had refused to negotiate with the extremists, who were linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and appear to include Algerians, Libyans, Egyptians and at least one commander from Niger.

Algeria’s state-run media earlier reported that 12 refinery workers, including Algerians and foreigners, had been killed since a government operation to retake the plant began Thursday. Unconfirmed media reports suggested that as many as 35 foreign captives may have been killed, including some struck by gunfire from the Algerian military.

The militants, some dressed in fatigues, were armed with machine guns and rocket launchers. The compound is encircled by army tanks, troops and special forces. A Mauritanian news agency that has been in contact with the extremists said the captors were holding two American, three Belgians, one Japanese and one Briton.

The Algerian government on Friday said 573 Algerians and nearly 100 of an estimated 132 foreign hostages had been freed or had escaped. But the chaotic scene at the gas compound at In Amenas has frustrated international officials who complained they were not consulted about the Algerian military’s operations at the plant.   

The natural gas refinery at In Amenas is also jointly operated by BP; Statoil, a Norwegian firm; and Sonatrach, the Algerian national oil company.

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jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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