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Algeria hostage crisis: Briton feared killed and dozens kidnapped

The Amenas natural gas field in Algeria, from where Islamist militants raided and took hostages today. Picture: AP

The Amenas natural gas field in Algeria, from where Islamist militants raided and took hostages today. Picture: AP

  • by TOM PETERKIN
 

TWO foreign nationals, one of them thought to be British, have reportedly been killed while several others were abducted in an attack by Islamist militants on a BP gas facility in eastern Algeria.

• One Briton among two confirmed dead in terrorist attack in Algeria

• 36-year-old is among British, Japanese, Norwegian and French oil-workers

An Islamist group claimed it was holding 41 westerners – including British, French and American citizens – in retaliation for the French military intervention against al-Qaeda-backed rebels in neighbouring Mali.

But details of the attack on the In Amenas gas facility close to the Libyan border remained sketchy last night and there were fears the number of hostages could be higher.

Downing Street said several British nationals had been caught up in the attack.

But the Foreign Office was unable to verify a report by the Algeria state news agency that a Briton had died.

Six others are said to have been wounded, including two foreigners, two police officers and two security agents.

Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a 45-minute meeting of Whitehall’s Cobra emergency committee yesterday, at which ministers were updated on the developing situation.

Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said last night: “The ongoing incident has involved various nationalities, including several British nationals.

“We are working with BP to support the families of staff and provide consular assistance.”

The Irish government said a 36-year-old Irishman was among the hostages. He was believed to be unharmed.

The Algerian interior ministry said the attack began when three vehicles carrying heavily armed-militants ambushed a bus carrying employees from the gas plant to the nearby airport. Initially they were driven off, but they then headed for the main complex.

“The terrorist group headed to the complex’s living quarters and took a number of workers with foreign nationalities hostage,” an interior ministry statement said.

“The forces of the People’s National Army and security services arrived at the scene and immediately took all necessary measures to make the area secure and seek a rapid resolution of the situation, which is being very closely followed by the

national authorities.”

The militant group Katibat Moulathamine – “The Masked Ones” – later contacted a news agency in the Saharan state of Mauritania to claim that the raid was carried out by an affiliate group, which has been identified as “Those who sign their names in blood”.

A spokesman for the Katibat said 41 Westerners of nine or ten nationalities had been taken hostage, including seven Americans.

Five foreigners were being held in a factory, while 36 others were in living quarters at the plant, claimed the spokesman, who said the action was carried out in retaliation for Algeria allowing France to use its airspace for raids on northern Mali.

Britain has provided two RAF C-17 transport aircraft to support the operation as well as offering to share intelligence with Paris.

The In Amenas facility is jointly operated by BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach. BP said in a statement that there was “an ongoing security incident” in the gas field, which was “attacked and occupied by a group of unidentified armed people” at 5am UK time.

“Contact with the site is extremely difficult, but we understand that armed individuals are still occupying the In Amenas operations site,” the statement said. “Our absolute priority is the safety and security of our staff. We do not yet have confirmed information on the status of personnel at the site but believe some are being held by the

occupiers.”

Statoil said that it had 20 employees in the facility. The Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende reported that a 55-year-old Norwegian working on the site called his wife to say he was among the hostages. The Japanese government said Japanese employees working for a company which supplies services to the site may also have been kidnapped.

The attack happened as EU foreign ministers were preparing to meet tomorrow in Brussels to discuss plans to send a 400-strong military training mission to Mali.

 
 
 

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