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Death toll rises in Algerian hostage drama

Twenty-three hostages and 32 militants were killed over three days during the gas plant hostage drama in Algeria, according to its interior ministry. On Saturday alone, seven hostages and 11 extremists were killed.

The hostage drama that began early Wednesday when militants stormed the In Amenas gas plant had culminated in the freeing of 685 Algerian and 107 foreign workers, the ministry said, after days of unverified figures.

The 32 militants killed were of various nationalities, the ministry added. Three of them were Algerians, it said.

Algeria's state news agency added that the military had found machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

BP workers still missing

BP, which is one of the partners at the sprawling natural gas extraction complex in southeastern Algeria, said 14 of its 18 employees were safe, but the fate of the four others remained unknown.

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Algerian hostage drama 'over'

"Tragically we have grave fears that we are likely to have suffered one or more casualties," said BP's chief executive Bob Dudley in London during a conference call to reporters.

"The information I've had from the Algerian energy ministry is that the active operation has been completed, that the terrorists had an intention of potentially destroying the entire facility and there are explosives and mines involved, and it is being very systematically being walked through by the Algerian military," Dudley said.

BP was reviewing security at other installations in the region, he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron in a news release said late Saturday that he feared for the lives of five British citizens still unaccounted for, in addition to a Briton killed in the early phase of the militants' attack. "We now fear the worst for the lives of five others."

Cameron said he had spoken with Algeria's premier Abdelmalek Sellal who had said that the hostage-taking had been ended.

Norwegians also missing

Norway's Statoil, another partner at In Amenas, said five of its workers - all Norwegian nationals - were still missing. One other employee had been brought to safety, said Chief Executive Helge Lund late on Saturday.

"We feel a deep and growing unease ... we fear that over the next few days we will receive bad news," Lund told a news conference in Oslo.

"People we have spoken to describe unbelievable, horrible experiences."

'Executions,' says El Watan

During Saturday's final assault by Algerian special forces, Islamist hostage-takers "executed" seven hostages, said the newspaper El Watan in Algiers.

It identified them as three Belgians, two Americans, a Briton and a Japanese.

Belgium had earlier denied that any of its citizens were at In Amenas.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said early Sunday, Tokyo time, that he had received "somber information" about Japanese nationals also caught up in the drama at In Amenas.

Britain, US avoid critique of Algeria

At a joint press conference in London, the US and British defense ministers - Leon Panetta and Philip Hammond - avoided criticism of the Algerian government's handling of the hostage drama.

"They are in the region, they understand the threat of terrorism better probably than a lot of other countries," said Panetta.

"Different countries have different approaches to dealing with these things," said Hammond, adding that the loss of lives was "appalling."

Both ministers said they were supporting the French-led military operation to oust Islamist rebels from northern and central Mali, which shares a desert border with Algeria.

ipj/slk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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