Bombs strapped to Irish hostage
A local man who had escaped from the facility said the militants appeared to have inside knowledge of the layout of the complex, supporting the view of security experts that their raid was long-planned, even if the Mali war provided a motive.
Algiers, whose leaders have long had frosty relations with the former colonial power France and other Western countries, may have some explaining to do over its tactics in putting an end to a hostage crisis whose scale was comparable to few in recent decades bar those involving Chechen militants in Russia.
The militants said earlier they had 41 foreign hostages.
Stephen McFaul, an electrical engineer, told his family in Northern Ireland after the operation that he narrowly escaped death, first when bound and gagged by the gunmen who fastened explosives around the hostages' necks and then on Thursday when he was in a convoy of five vehicles driving across the complex.
"(The gunmen) were moving five jeeploads of hostages from one part of the compound," his brother Brian McFaul said.
"At that stage, they were intercepted by the Algerian army.
"The army bombed four out of five of the trucks and four of them were destroyed ... He presumed everyone else in the other trucks was killed ... The truck my brother was in crashed and at that stage Stephen was able to make a break for his freedom."
Mr McFaul said it was unclear whether the vehicles had been struck by missiles fired from helicopters or by ground forces.
The attack in Algeria did not stop France from pressing on with its campaign in Mali. It said yesterday it now had 1,400 troops on the ground there, and combat was under way against the rebels that it first began targeting from the air last week.
"What is happening in Algeria justifies all the more the decision I made in the name of France to intervene in Mali in line with the UN charter," Mr Hollande said yesterday.
The French action last week came as a surprise but received widespread public international support. Neighbouring African countries planning to provide ground troops for a UN force by September have said they will move faster to deploy them.