About 60 foreigners were still being held hostage or missing inside a gas plant on Friday despite special forces freeding around 650 of them detained by an armed group at a gas field in Algeria, the official APS news agency reported on Friday. The hostages were kept at the British Petroleum (BP) natural gas field facility in Illizi province, around 60 km from the Libyan border. Those freed include 570 Algerians and over half of the 132 detained foreigners, Xinhua cited the report as saying.
A local Algerian source said 60 foreigners were still in the facility and some were being held hostage, but it was unclear how many and how many might be in hiding elsewhere in the sprawling compound. It was also not known if some might have been killed and the bodies not found.
Those still unaccounted for included 10 from Japan, eight Norwegians and a number of Britons put by Cameron at "less than 30". Washington has said a number of Americans were among the hostages, without giving details, and the local source said a US aircraft landed nearby on Friday. As Western leaders clamoured for news of their nationals, several expressed anger they had not been consulted by the Algerian government about its decision to storm the facility. Algeria's state news agency said earlier more than half of 132 foreign hostages were freed and that the army had rescued 650 hostages, 573 of whom were Algerians.
Mauritania's ANI news agency said a spokesman for the kidnappers identified themselves as the "Battalion of Blood". Earlier, the militants said they were holding 41 foreign nationals, including Americans, French, British, Norwegian and Japanese workers.
Algerian authorities earlier said the kidnappers were Algerians and operating under orders from Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former commander of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A statement purported to be from the hostage-takers called for an end to the French military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighbouring Mali.
Algerian forces stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist militants, who threatened to attack other energy installations. The attack, which plunged capitals around the world into cirsis mode, is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.
"We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part," British prime minister David Cameron told his parliament. "(The army) is still trying to achieve a 'peaceful outcome' before neutralising the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held," it said, quoting a security source.
Thirty hostages, including several Westerners, were killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of their captors, who said they had taken the site as retaliation for French intervention against Islamists in neighbouring Mali.