Algeria says 37 foreign hostages dead
A total of 37 foreign workers died in a hostage crisis at an Algerian desert gas plant and seven are still missing, Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal said today.
Mr Sellal also told a news conference that a Canadian had coordinated the attack by Islamists on the site near the Libyan border.
Mr Sellal also said that 29 Islamists had been killed in the siege, which Algerian forces ended by storming the plant, and three had been captured alive.
"A Canadian was among the militants. He was coordinating the attack," Mr Sellal told a news conference, adding that the raiders had threatened to blow up the gas installation.
American, British, French, Japanese, Norwegian, Filipino and Romanian workers are dead or missing after the attack, for which veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar has claimed responsibility on behalf of al Qaeda.
The jihadists had planned the attack two months ago in neighbouring Mali, where French forces began fighting Islamists this month, Sellal added.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a news conference he had received information that seven Japanese had been killed and the fate of three more was still unknown.Six Filipinos died and four were wounded, a government spokesman in Manila said.
Norwegian International Development Minister Heikki Holmaas said his stepfather, Tore Bech, was among the missing and presumed dead.
Mr Sellal said that initially the raiders in Algeria had tried to hijack a bus carrying foreign workers to a nearby airport and take them hostage. "They started firing at the bus and received a severe response from the soldiers guarding the bus," he said. "They failed to achieve their objective, which was to kidnap foreign workers from the bus."
He said special forces and army units were deployed against the militants, who had planted explosives in the gas plant with a view to blowing up the facility.
One group of militants had tried to escape in some vehicles, each of which also was carrying three or four foreign workers, some of whom had explosives attached to their bodies.
After what he called a "fierce response from the armed forces", the raiders' vehicles crashed or exploded and one of their leaders was among those killed.
Mr Sellal said the jihadists who staged the attack last Wednesday had crossed into the country from neighbouring Libya.
Bringing home the bodies of the victims of the Algerian terror siege is Britain’s top priority but it might take some time, UK prime minister David Cameron said today.
Mr Cameron confirmed to MPs that three British nationals were known to have been killed in the attack on the In Amenas gas field and a further three were believed to be dead, along with a Colombian who lived in the UK.
Mr Cameron said his deepest condolences were with the families of the victims and said work to clear the site of potential traps was continuing.
Family members of the British people involved in the Algerian hostage crisis have criticised British authorities for a lack of official information.
One of those killed was Kenneth Whiteside, a 59-year-old from Glenrothes, Fife, who lived in Johannesburg with his wife and two daughters. His brother, Bob Whiteside, told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme the family learnt of Mr Whiteside’s death on Facebook.
It was not until after his daughter found a message on the social network site that police confirmed Mr Whiteside had been killed. “We were not given any official information and it was through Facebook, of all things, that we found out of Kenny’s demise.
“It was my daughter who found it on Facebook, a message from an Algerian co-worker. “The police came last night and informed us that what was on Facebook was true, that Kenny had been ... he was executed.”