Assault ends Algeria plant siege


A total of 23 hostages and 32 militants were killed after an attack on a gas plant in the Algerian desert, the Algerian interior ministry said this evening.

Giving what it said was the final death toll of the attack at in Amenas, it also said 107 foreign hostages and 685 Algerian hostages had been released.

The Algerian army carried out a "final assault" today on al Qaeda-linked gunmen holed up in the desert gas plant, killing 11 of the Islamists after they took the lives of seven foreign hostages.

"It is over now, the assault is over, and the military are inside the plant clearing it of mines," a local source familiar with the operation told Reuters.

The state oil and gas company, Sonatrach, said the militants who attacked the plant on Wednesday and took a large number of hostages had booby-trapped the gas complex with explosives.

Earlier today, Algerian special forces found 15 burned bodies at the plant. Efforts were underway to identify the bodies, the source told Reuters, and it was not clear how they had died.

Sixteen foreign hostages were freed today, a source close to the crisis said. They included two Americans, two Germans and one Portuguese.

Britain said fewer than 10 of its nationals at the plant were unaccounted for.

The attack on the plant swiftly turned into the biggest international hostage crises in decades, pushing Saharan militancy to the top of the global agenda.

Scores of Westerners and hundreds of Algerian workers were inside the heavily fortified compound when it was seized before dawn on Wednesday by Islamist fighters who said they wanted a halt to a French military operation in neighbouring Mali.

Hundreds escaped on Thursday when the army launched its operation, but many hostages were killed.

Belfast electrician Stephen McFaul (36), who survived the ordeal unharmed, arrived in London last night and is expected to complete his journey to Belfast this weekend.

A family spokesman said Mr McFaul left Algeria yesterday afternoon and arrived in Gatwick airport last night. He was staying in London for one or two nights to attend a foreign office debriefing and a medical assessment.

Britain and Japan have criticised the Algerians for storming the compound without consulting with them, but Algiers insists it was forced to act when the kidnappers attempted to flee with their hostages.

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