Algerian military forces have ended an operation to rescue hostages from a gas plant controlled by militants, according to state-run media. The military move prompted international criticism.
Algerian special forces have completed an operation on Thursday aimed at freeing hostages from a gas complex besieged by Islamist gunmen, according to Algeria's state-run news agency, APS.
APS cited Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said as saying both kidnappers and hostages died in the operation, though the agency said the minister did not specify how many.
Several countries, including Britain, France, Norway, Japan and the US, who reportedly have citizens involved in the hostage situation, have confirmed their awareness of the situation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had called his Algerian counterpart Abdelmalek Sellal at around 1130 UCT, Cameron’s spokesman said.
"The Algerians are aware that we would have preferred to have been consulted in advance," he said of the military rescue attempt. The British government also confirmed that "several" British citizens were among the hostages.
"We can confirm that we have been informed of a military operation against the In Amenas complex," a spokesman for Norway's foreign ministry, Kjetil Elsebutangen, said. Norway's Statoil company is one of the joint operators of the gas plant.
The Reuters news agency said, citing unnamed local sources, that several hostages were killed in the raid.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, said he was "deeply saddened," over the deaths of the hostages. "These terrorists, they are not freedom fighters. These are brutal criminals who have no qualms with killing innocent people,” he said in Brussels after an EU foreign ministers meeting. "This hostage-taking shows the total brutality and ruthlessness of terrorism."
The only confirmed report of a freed hostage is that of an Irish passport holder; the Irish government said on Thursday that he had been freed and was safe.
Islamist militants have told a Mauritanian news outlet that Algerian military helicopters attacked the gas complex, killing 15 of the kidnappers. Like most reports out of In Amenas, these were difficult to verify.
Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian with al Qaeda ties, has claimed responsibility for launching the attack.
Armed attackers took over the gas field, close to In Amenas, in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, later claiming in radio interviews with regional media that they were holding "41 Westerners" hostage.
The gas field is a joint project, run by British Petroleum (BP), Norway's Statoil and the state-run Algerian energy firm Sonatrach.
BP confirmed that there was an ongoing security incident at the field.
French news agency AFP cited one of the attackers, speaking by telephone, as saying that the group were al Qaeda loyalists who had entered Algeria from northern Mali. France launched an air offensive against Malian rebels in the north of the country on January 11.
hc/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)