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Terrorism & Security

Algerian hostage crisis heightens as scores are reported dead (+video)

According to Algerian news sources, some 30 Algerians and 15 foreigners have escaped the natural gas field, and another 35 hostages have reportedly died in an airstrike.

By Staff writer / January 17, 2013

This undated image, released Jan. 16, 2013, by British Petroleum, shows the Amenas natural gas field in the eastern central region of Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday.

BP/AP

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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Islamic militants have told a Mauritanian news outlet that that 35 hostages were killed but seven are still alive after Algerian military helicopters strafed a gas complex deep in the Sahara in Algeria.

Dozens of hostages, both Algerian and foreign, have reportedly escaped the natural gas field in eastern Algeria that Islamic militants seized on Monday, but as the hostage situation enters its second day, an estimated 35 hostages and 15 hostage-takers were killed in an airstrike as they tried to move from one plant location to another, reports Al Jazeera and Reuters.

Reuters reports that according to Algerian news sources, some 30 Algerians and 15 foreigners have escaped the natural gas field in the Sahara Desert near the Algerian-Libyan border. But scores of Algerians and dozens of foreigners remain hostages of the "Battalion of Blood" militant group, according to statements that the hostages were allowed to make in phone calls to news outlets.

An unidentified hostage who spoke to France 24 television said prisoners were being forced to wear explosive belts. Their captors were heavily armed and had threatened to blow up the plant if the Algerian army tried to storm it.

Two hostages, identified as British and Irish, spoke to Al Jazeera television and called on the Algerian army to withdraw from the area to avoid casualties.

"We are receiving care and good treatment from the kidnappers. The (Algerian) army did not withdraw and they are firing at the camp," the British man said. "There are around 150 Algerian hostages. We say to everybody that negotiations is a sign of strength and will spare many any loss of life."

Reuters adds that US, French, and British officials did not confirm the numbers of their respective citizens who were being held by the terrorist group.

Although the raid on the field comes just days after the start of France's intervention in Mali, a campaign which the hostage-takers in Algeria demand must end, experts say that it is unlikely the attack was a spur-of-the-moment response to events in Mali. Helima Croft, a Barclays Capital senior geopolitical strategist, told The New York Times that “This type of attack had to have advanced planning. It’s not an easy target of opportunity.” 

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