Conflict & Justice

Algeria hostage crisis 'not over,' could bring 'bad news,' says Britain


Malian President Dioncounda Traore (L) and French ambassador in Mali Christian Royer (C) arrive to visit troops at the 101 airbase near Bamako on January 16, 2013. French troops engaged in close combat with Islamist fighters in Mali today as Al Qaeda-linked fighters claimed to have seized 41 foreign hostages at a gas plant over the border in Algeria.


Eric Feferberg

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Algeria's hostage crisis at a gas plant deep in the Sahara desert has entered its third day with many questions still unanswered, including how many casualties were suffered in the chaos. 

The Islamist militants who seized the BP plant in Amenas earlier this week claim to be holding 41 hostages, and BBC News reported Friday that "at least four hostages and a number of militants" have died. 

The New York Times quoted the range of reported deaths from four to 35 people, adding that an Algerian official said the higher figure was "exaggerated."

Algeria's government said Thursday night that their raid on the captured plant was over, but Britain has said that the operations are still ongoing, the Associated Press reported, adding to the confusion surrounding the incident.

Algerian forces fired on the militants Thursday as they tried to leave the plant with hostages and appeared to be bringing them to "a neighboring country," where kidnappers could use them "as a means of blackmail with criminal intent," said Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said, CNN reported.

The British Foreign Office is not commenting on the operations, which is still ongoing. Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about the crisis Friday morning, calling it a "brutal and savage" terrorist attack and that the operation was a "large, well-armed, well coordinated, pre-planned assault," the Telegraph reported on their live blog

“We are not in a position to give further information at this time," said the British Foreign Office. "But the prime minister has advised we should be prepared for bad news.” 

Meanwhile, many of the hostages, including Americans, Britons, French, Norwegians, Romanians, Malaysians, Japanese, and Algerians remain unaccounted for.

US officials said that some Americans had managed to escape, and reportedly sent an unmanned surveillance drone to the border, but it was only able to watch Thursday's chaotic events unfold, the AP reported. 

The hostage-taking is reportedly the work of an Al Qaeda splinter group from Mali known as the Masked Brigade, and is the largest North Africa has seen in years, according to the AP. It is also the first to include Americans as targets. 

More from GlobalPost: Algeria hostage rescue operation turns deadly, as Mali offensive continues (LIVE BLOG)