Algeria hostage drama ends with 55 dead

2013-01-20 10:00

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International outcry mounts over army’s handling of standoff.

The death toll from the Algerian gas plant hostage stood at 55 by last night.

Quoting Algerian TV, CNN reported that 23 captives and 32 kidnappers were killed.

The Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara Desert yesterday to end a four-day hostage situation.

Algerian authorities estimated that 30 militants occupied the Ain Amenas site on Wednesday and after yesterday’s drama, it appears the hostage crisis involving hundreds of plant workers is finally over.

Hostages included US, British, Norwegian, Philippine and Japanese nationals.

Associated Press reported an international outcry over the Algerians’ handling of the crisis. Experts noted this was how they had always dealt with terrorists – refusing to negotiate.

The Algerian army has responded to criticism over a deadly raid to free hostages held by militants at a gas complex in the desert, saying the action had prevented a “real massacre”.

The standoff has put the spotlight on militancy plaguing the region and al-Qaeda-linked groups roaming remote areas from Mali to Libya, threatening vital infrastructure and energy interests.

The Islamist fighters crossed the border from Libya to gain access to the gas plant and take hostages.

On Friday they wanted to swap American hostages they were holding for Aafia Siddiqui and Omar Abdul Rahman, known as the Blind Sheikh, who are in jail in the US on charges of terrorist links.

The ANI news agency quoted sources close to Islamist leader Mohktar Belmokhtar saying on Friday that the abductors, who held Algerian and foreign hostages at the gas plant 1?800km from the capital Algiers, have also demanded negotiation for an end to French intervention in Mali.

The drama started on Wednesday when Islamist groups ambushed two buses, taking foreign workers at the facility to the local airport, in retaliation for French intervention.

Belmokhtar, a one-eyed Algerian jihadi with al-Qaeda ties, has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack.

On Thursday, Algerian forces answered by attacking the In Amenas gas plant jointly run by BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s state-owned oil company as the militants tried to move some of their captives from the facility.

Meanwhile, heads of state of the Economic Community of West Africa met on Saturday in Ivory Coast to accelerate the deployment of troops to Mali.

The quota will consist of 3?300 men, who will strengthen French army troops in Mali.

The French army has 1 800 soldiers on Malian soil.

Human Rights Watch claims Islamist armed groups in northern Mali are employing child soldiers in their ranks during their conflict with Malian and French forces.

It says rebel groups should immediately remove children from training bases in or near Islamist military installations.

Witnesses interviewed by the organisation since January 8 described seeing many children, some as young as 12, taking part in the fighting

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