37 foreigners killed, 7 unidentified: Algeria' s Prime Minister
BY DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS and LEILA HATOUM
ALGIERS -- Algeria' s Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said Monday that 37 foreigners and one Algerian security guard died during the attack on a remote natural-gas complex conducted by Islamist militants from at least five countries, including Canada.
In his first public comments on the four-day deadly standoff that ended Saturday, Mr. Sellal said seven of the foreign victims remained unidentified after the lethal raid that illustrated the risks posed by violent al Qaeda linked extremists roaming across the vast Sahara desert.
"It' s a sad thing that innocent victims were killed in the terrorist attack," Mr. Sellal said in a televised press conference.
The premier said 32 heavily armed militants drove into Algeria from Northern Mali on Wednesday with the aim of capturing foreign hostages at the In Amenas site, located near the Libyan border.
"The primary target for those terrorist groups was to take over a bus carrying foreign workers including a BP director that was heading to an airport and take them to Northern Mali in order to have hostages to use in negotiations with foreign countries," said Mr. Sellal.
He said the group, which carried large amount of explosives, also wanted to blow up the gas complex operated by BP, Statoil and Algeria' s state energy company.
Three militants were captured alive while 29 others, were killed, Mr. Sellal said.
Led by an Algerian national, Mohammed Bencheneb, the group included Egyptians, Canadians, Tunisians, Mauritanians, Libyans, as well as militants from Niger and Mali, he said.
During the siege, officials from Japan and several other foreign governments, urged Algeria to push for a peaceful resolution and expressed frustration that they had little information about what was going on.
Algeria' s special forces, which surrounded the site, did try initially to negotiate with the militants, Mr. Sellal said. But when the insurgents spelled out their demands, including the release of Islamist militants held in Algerian prisons, "negotiation became impossible, which made an intervention necessary."
Violent Islamic groups controlling northern Mali, and crisscrossing borders between Algeria, Niger, Mauritania and other North and West African countries, have vowed to hit at Western interests. On Jan. 11, France engaged its troops in Mali to help the African country push back the al Qaeda-link insurgency and regain control of its northern half.
Mr. Sellal said out of the 136 foreigners that worked at the facility, five are still reported missing. They could be hiding or possibly escaped the siege without being noticed. Overall about 790 employees worked at the site, he said.
The operation was carefully planned and the militants were familiar with the layout of the site, the Prime Minister said. He did not mention the possible presence of accomplices inside the complex.
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