Algeria says 37 foreign hostages dead
The raid has exposed the vulnerability of multinational-run oil and gas installations in an important producing region and pushed the growing threat from Islamist militant groups in the Sahara to a prominent position in the West's security agenda.
Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has ordered an investigation into how security forces failed to prevent the attack, the daily El Khabar said. The militants had used nine cars in Sonatrach colours and all with Libyan registration plates, it quoted unnamed security sources as saying.
Algerian Tahar Ben Cheneb - leader of a group called the Movement of Islamic Youth in the South who was killed on the first day of the assault - had been based in Libya where he married a local woman two months ago, it said.
Belmokhtar - a one-eyed jihadist who fought in Afghanistan and Algeria's civil war of the 1990s when the secular government fought Islamists - tied the desert attack to France's intervention across the Sahara against Islamist rebels in Mali. "We in al-Qaeda announce this blessed operation," he said in a video, according to Sahara Media, a regional website. About 40 attackers participated in the raid, he said, roughly matching the government's figures for fighters killed and captured.
Belmokhtar demanded an end to French air strikes against Islamist fighters in neighbouring Mali. These began five days before the fighters swooped before dawn and seized a plant that produces 10 per cent of Algeria's natural gas exports.
US and European officials doubt such a complex raid could have been organised quickly enough to have been conceived as a direct response to the French military intervention. However, the French action could have triggered an operation that had already been planned.
The group behind the raid, the Mulathameen Brigade, also threatened to carry out more such attacks if Western powers did not end what it called an assault on Muslims in Mali, according to the Site service, which monitors militant statements.
In a statement published by the Mauritania-based Nouakchott News Agency, the hostage takers said they had offered talks about freeing the captives, but the Algerian authorities had been determined to use military force. "We opened the door for negotiations with the Westerners and the Algerians, and granted them safety from the beginning of the operation, but one of the senior (Algerian) intelligence officials confirmed to us in a phone call that they will destroy the place with everyone in it," Site quoted the statement as saying.