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British PM Says Algeria Hostage Siege Ongoing

January 18, 2013


British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that the hostage crisis in Algeria is not over and the situation remains "fluid and dangerous."

Speaking late on January 18, Cameron said Algerian troops were "still pursuing terrorists" and searching for hostages in one part of the In Amenas gas facility near the Libyan border.

He said remaining hostages included Britons, Algerians, and nationals of at least seven other countries.

The U.S. State Department confirmed that Americans were still among the hostages being held.

Algeria's state news agency APS meanwhile said the rescue operation had freed nearly 650 hostages, including up to 70 foreigners.

That information could not be independently confirmed.

Algerian state media also said at least 18 terrorists have been killed so far, and quoted local officials as saying two Britons and two Filipinos were killed in the military assault.

A Briton and an Algerian died on January 16 when the militants launched the attack against the facility.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on January 18 that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in contact with the Algerian government to coordinate efforts on the crisis.

Nuland did not reveal how many Americans were still being held hostage or if any had been freed.

She also dismissed suggestions by the militants that they would free hostages in exchange for Pakistani doctor Aafia Siddiqui and Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted in the United States on terrorism charges.

Algeria's military operation to free the hostages was launched a day after Islamic militants seized tens of foreigners and Algerians at the facility in the Sahara on January 16.

The militants were demanding that France cease its involvement in an ongoing offensive against Islamists in neighboring Mali.

The news of the Algerian military operation against the hostage takers took many other governments by surprise.

The British prime minister said on the second day of the operation he was "disappointed" that Algeria did not inform him in advance about it.

"We were not informed of this in advance," Cameron said. "I was told by the Algerian prime minister while it was taking place. He said that the terrorists have tried to flee, that they judged there to be 'an immediate threat' to the lives of the hostages and had felt obliged to respond."

Reuters quoted unnamed officials in Paris as saying that the French government was also not informed in advance about the operation.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP


Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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