Algerian Army Frees 650 Hostages, Including 70 Foreigners as Gunmen Seek Negotiation on Ending Mali Operation

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  • W460
  • W460
  • W460

Algerian special forces have freed nearly 650 hostages from Islamist gunmen at a remote gas plant near the Libyan border, but some 60 foreigners are still missing, national media said on Friday.

"Nearly 650 hostages seized in the attack carried out on Wednesday by a terrorist group... among them 573 Algerians and more than half of the 132 foreign hostages, were freed" by Algerian special forces, the APS news agency reported.

The final number of foreigners who managed to escape from the kidnappers was unavailable, it said, as some were still either in hiding or being held hostage inside the industrial complex.

"(The army) is trying to reach a peaceful solution before neutralizing the terrorist group that is holed up in the plant and freeing a group of hostages still being held there," APS said.

The In Amenas plant, which is jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's Sonatrach, has now been put out of service to avoid the risk of explosion.

The army rescue operation was launched on Thursday after the kidnappers seized the hostages at the site in what they said was retaliation for Algeria's support for French air strikes in Mali.

The kidnappers said 34 captives were killed in the military assault, but an Algerian security source described that toll as "fantasy," while stating that 18 of more than 30 gunmen involved in the hostage-taking operation were killed.

International criticism is mounting of the Algerian government's handling of the attack on the plant amid reports that many foreign hostages may have been killed in the army raid.

Sources close to the militants' leader were quoted by Mauritanian media on Friday as saying they want to negotiate an end to French intervention in Mali and exchange American hostages for prisoners held in the United States.

Algeria has insisted it would not negotiate with "terrorists."

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