January 17, 2013

Algeria: Army rescues hostages, but death toll unclear

Algerian television said Thursday four captives, two Britons and two Filipinos, had died. The militants said at least 35 were killed. The fate and number of American hostages was unclear.

The Associated Press

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click image to enlarge

This undated image released Wednesday by BP petroleum company shows the Amenas natural gas field in the eastern central region of Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages on Wednesday.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

"Bullets were flying over their heads as they hid on the floor of the bus," Vigdis Sletten told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her home in Bokn, on Norway's west coast.

Her husband and the other bus passengers climbed out of a window and were transported to a nearby military camp, she said, declining to give his name for security reasons.

News of the bloody Algerian operation caused oil prices to rise $1.25 to close at $95.49 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and prompted energy companies like BP PLC and Spain's Compania Espanola de Petroleos SA to try to relocate energy workers at other Algerian plants.

Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the 20-odd militants entered the country from nearby Libya in three vehicles, in an operation commanded by extremist mastermind Moktar Belmoktar, who is normally based in Mali.

"The Algerian authorities have expressed, many times, to the Libyan authorities, its fears and asked it a dozen times to be careful and secure borders with Algeria," Kabila was quoted as saying on the website of the newspaper Echourouk.

The militants made it clear that their attack was fallout from the intervention in Mali. One commander, Oumar Ould Hamaha, said they were now "globalizing the conflict" in revenge for the military assault on Malian soil.

France has encountered fierce resistance from the extremist groups in Mali and failed to persuade many allies to join in the actual combat. The Algeria raid could push other partners to act more decisively in Mali — but could also scare away those who are wary of inviting terrorist attacks back home.

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