Captors talk about swapping hostages

2013-01-18 16:32


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Algiers - Algeria's state news service says the al-Qaeda linked militants who captured hostages at a remote gas plant in the Sahara are now talking about trading two captive Americans for two jailed terror figures in the United States.

One of the two, Omar Abdel Rahman, masterminded the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.

About 18 foreign hostages are unaccounted for in the standoff with Islamist militants now entering its third day.

The news service said more than half the 132 foreign hostages had been freed, but the report could not account for the rest.

The report on Friday also said special forces had resumed negotiations after an assault at the gas plant deep in the Sahara on Thursday.

Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed, the Algerian source said.

The captors threatened to attack other energy installations after Algerian forces stormed the desert gas complex to free hundreds of captives, resulting in dozens of deaths.

With Western leaders clamouring for details of a raid they said Algeria had launched on Thursday without consulting them, a local source said the sprawling compound was still surrounded by Algerian special forces and some hostages remained inside.

Thirty hostages, including several Westerners, were killed during the assault, the source said, along with at least 18 of their captors, who said they had taken the site as retaliation for French intervention against Islamists in neighbouring Mali.


The crisis represents a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns in the north, and could devastate OPEC member Algeria's oil industry, just as it recovers from a civil war in the 1990s.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the Algerian government had told him its operation was still going on at mid-morning on Friday. "The death of several hostages is appalling," he told journalists.

Ten Japanese were among those still unaccounted for on Friday, their Japanese employer said, while Norwegian energy company Statoil, which runs the Tigantourine gas field with Britain's BP and Algeria's national oil company, said eight Norwegian employees were still missing.

Some British workers also appeared to be unaccounted for, though Prime Minister David Cameron said only that fewer than 30 Britons were still at risk as the operation continued.

Washington has said a number of Americans were among the hostages, without giving details, and the local source said a US aircraft landed nearby on Friday to evacuate Americans.

Read more on:    algeria  |  north africa

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