Thursday, January 17, 2013

Death Toll Unclear in Algeria Hostage Crisis — British Prime Minister David Cameron Warns of 'Bad News'

The West's worst hostage crisis in decades, and things went badly. Quite badly

From USA Today, "Algeria hostage crisis ends; death toll unclear":

David Cameron
Algerian special forces completed an operation to free hostages from a natural gas complex deep in the Sahara Desert, but the army provided no information on the death toll, Algeria's state news agency reported Thursday.

Reports on the crisis have been conflicting.

A U.S. official said late Thursday that while some Americans escaped, other Americans remained either held or unaccounted for, the Associated Press reported. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The attack by Algerian forces killed the leader of the Islamic terrorist group that orchestrated the hostage-taking as well as at least 14 other terrorists, according to Mauritanian news agency ANI. The kidnappers come from Algeria, Canada, Mali, Egypt, Niger and Mauritania, ANI said.

The Algerian state news agency ANP said the operation involved airstrikes and a ground operation to free the hostages, some of whom were picked up by military helicopters. Algerian TV had said that four foreign workers — two Britons and two Filipinos — died in the operation and that 600 hostages were freed.

However, a spokesman for the terror group Qatiba told a Mauritanian news outlet that Algerian military helicopters strafed the gas complex, killing 35 foreign hostages — including five Americans — and 15 militants, the Associated Press is reporting. Seven survived, including two Americans, the spokesman told AP.

Reuters, citing an Algerian security source, is reporting that 30 hostages were killed, including seven foreigners and eight Algerians. Among the foreigners were two Britons, two Japanese and one French national.

The source also says 11 militants died, including the group's leader, Tahar Ben Cheneb, described as a "prominent commander in the region."

Adding to the confusion was an earlier AP report, citing an unnamed Algerian official, that as many as 20 foreign hostages, including an unknown number of Americans, had escaped their captors.

Stephen McFaul, an Irish engineer who escaped, reported seeing Algerian forces attack Jeeps containing hostages who were being moved inside the complex, his brother told Reuters. Four vehicles blew up, and McFaul's vehicle crashed, allowing him to flee.

McFaul said the militants hung explosives around the hostages' necks.
Here's the report at Reuters, "Thirty hostages reported killed in Algeria assault."

And see London's Daily Mail, "Bloodbath in the desert: Two Britons among 30 hostages killed as Algerians botch raid on Al Qaeda terrorists."

Also at Telegraph UK, "Algeria hostage crisis: Britons die in bungled rescue." And Guardian UK, "Algeria: many hostages feared dead as special forces move in."