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Algerian Press Service reports hundreds freed

The APS state news agency has reported that "about 100" of 132 foreign hostages have been freed at a gas plant near In Amenas. The report, citing unnamed sources, also hinted at the chance of a "peaceful conclusion."

epa03540762 An undated handout photograph released by the British Petroleum (BP) company on 16 January 2013 shows the gas facility in Amenas, some 1300 km southeast Algiers, Algeria. Reports on 17 January 2013 state 34 hostages were killed and 26 freed during an attack by the Algerian military on the site where Islamist gunmen were holding a group hostage, France Info radio reported. EPA/BRITISH PETROLEUM / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Gasfeld Algerien Geiselnahme

Algeria's APS news agency reported on Friday that the majority of foreign and domestic hostages at the gas plant near In Amenas had been freed. The state-run outlet said it had received this information from a "security source."

APS reported that 573 Algerians and "about 100" of 132 foreigners were rescued by special forces. According to the report, on Thursday soldiers launched "a ground operation to liberate the hostages and neutralize the terrorist group" that took control of the gas field on Wednesday morning.

The site is jointly operated by British Petroleum, Norway's Statoil and the Algerian state-run company Sonatrach.

Citing the same source, APS reported that special forces were trying to bring about a "peaceful conclusion" to the hostage drama.

International confusion, criticism

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Hostage crisis continues

The United States, France, Norway, Ireland, Japan and Britain had confirmed that their citizens were initially among the international hostages.

After speaking with the Algerian prime minister on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the hostages were still in danger and urged the "utmost care" in preserving their lives. "This is an extremely difficult and dangerous situation," she told a joint news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who confirmed on Thursday evening that one UK citizen had died at the gas plant, said on Friday that there were signs of improvement.

"Last night the number of citizens at risk was less than 30. Thankfully now we know that number has been quite significantly reduced," Cameron said, declining to give further details owing to the "ongoing" operations to free the hostages.

Cameron had also postponed a speech on Britain and the European Union, originally scheduled for Friday, to concentrate on the Algerian attack.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Friday that one French citizen was killed in the hostage rescue operation. "One of our countrymen, Yann Desjeux, has unfortunately lost his life," Fabius said. "Three other of our citizens who were also at the site during the attack by the terrorists were saved."

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg complained late on Thursday that information coming out of Algeria was confusing and incomplete. A spokesman for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that he had "conveyed his strong concern" to the Algerian government, asking it to "refrain from any action leading to the endangerment of people's lives."

The precise identity of the attackers remains unclear, though convicted Algerian fugtive Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the attack. Some of the purported militants said they had launched the raid in response to the French military intervention in Mali, though other reports have suggested that the attack was planned months in advance.

msh/hc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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