Algeria kidnappers 'taken alive'
Algerian special forces clearing the In Amenas natural gas plant after a deadly hostage siege captured a sixth militant alive today, a security source said.
Algeria's military ended the siege yesterday, four days after militants seized the remote desert plant with hundreds of Algerians and scores of foreign workers inside. Officials initially said no fighters were found alive, but the source said earlier today that five had been captured.
The government says at least 32 militants and 23 hostages were killed, in a preliminary death toll which it expects will rise when a search of the site is complete.
Meanwhile, veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar has claimed responsibility in the name of al-Qaeda for the mass hostage-taking in Algeria and called on France to halt air strikes in Mali, Mauritanian news website Sahara Media said toay, citing a video.
"We in al-Qaeda announce this blessed operation," Belmokhtar said in the video, according to Sahara Media. "We are ready to negotiate with the West and the Algerian government provided they stop their bombing of Mali's Muslims."
Sahara Media did not display the video itself on its site and it was not immediately possible to verify the information.
The website has in the past received statements from al Qaeda-linked fighters operating in the lawless Sahara. Before the Mali crisis erupted, Mauritania was one of the countries deemed most at risk from such groups and al Qaeda's north African wing AQIM is believed to have camps in its vast desert.
Algeria said it expected heavy hostage casualties after its troops yesterday ended a siege of the heavily armed Islamists who had taken hundreds of workers hostage at a gas plant near the desert town of In Amenas.
"We had around 40 jihadists, most of them from Muslim countries and some even from the West," Belmokhtar said in the video, according to Sahara Media.
Mauritania's ANI news agency had previously reported that members of Belmokhtar's Mulathameen brigade, whose name means "The Masked Ones", had told it the attack was retaliation for French air strikes against the Islamist rebels who seized control of northern Mali last year.
Earlier, an Algerian security official said de-mining squads searching for explosives have found “numerous” bodies at the gas refinery.
The official said the bodies were difficult to identify and it was impossible to determine if they were foreign hostages or others.
Algerian special forces stormed the natural gas complex in the Sahara desert yesterday to end the stand-off, and the government said all 32 militants were killed.
Officials said the militants came from six countries and were armed to cause maximum destruction. Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway’s Statoil, said the entire refinery had been mined.
“They had decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages,” said communications minister Mohamed Said, speaking on a state radio interview.
The American government had warned that there were credible threats of more kidnapping attempts on Westerners.