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Algerian PM holds press conference about gas plant standoff

The Algerian prime minister has said that 37 foreign hostages were killed during the standoff with Islamist militants at a gas plant in In Amenas. He said at least one Canadian was among the hostage takers.

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said Monday at a press conference that 37 foreign hostages were killed during the four-day-long standoff, adding that the kidnappers came from Egypt, Canada, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Tunisia. Sellal said three kidnappers had been captured.

On Sunday, a security source told news agencies that Algerian soldiers combing through the gas extraction facility where the hostages had been held, had found a further 25 bodies, bringing the total number of hostages confirmed dead to 48, and the overall death toll to at least 80.

Earlier on Sunday, the al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the siege.

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Video: Algerian hostage crisis

"We in al Qaeda announce this blessed operation," Sahara Media quoted Belmokhtar as saying in a video obtained by the regional website. He also claimed 40 Islamist fighters had been involved in the operation.

The alleged hostage-takers earlier claimed the attack was in revenge for France's decision to send troops and air power to Mali to help the government battle against Islamist rebels. Both European and US officials, though, have cast doubt on the idea, arguing that such a complex raid could not have been organized and carried out within a matter of a few days.

Some of Algeria's Western allies, particularly those who had citizens being held by the hostage takers, initially complained that they had not been consulted ahead of the military assault. In the aftermath though Western governments publicly supported Algeria's decision to use force to end the siege.

US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Francois Hollande all came out in support of the Algerian move, blaming what they described as the "terrorists" for the hostages' deaths.

Nearly 700 Algerians and more than 100 foreigners were rescued in the operation.

Meanwhile, Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi has said the In Amenas gas extraction plant would be back up and running within the next two days. Speaking to reporters following a visit to the plant, Yousfi said the damage the plant had sustained during the seige was negligible and that security would be stepped up before it reopened.

pfd/ccp (AFP, Reuters)

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