Algeria: 12 hostages have died in the siege

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 18, 2013 at 3:44 pm •  Published: January 18, 2013
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Algerian forces retaliated Thursday by storming the plant in an attempted rescue operation that left leaders around the world expressing strong concerns about the hostages' safety.

Militants claimed 35 hostages died on Thursday when Algerian military helicopters opened fire as the Islamists transported the hostages around the gas plant. They militants said they continue to hold seven foreign hostages, according to Mauritanian news agency ANI, which said it had spoken to militants on Friday.

On Friday, trapped in the main refinery area, the militants offered to trade two American hostages for two prominent terror figures jailed in the United States. Those the militants sought included Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh who was convicted of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks and considered the spiritual leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist convicted of shooting at two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said there would be "no place to hide" for anyone who looks to attack the United States. "Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere," Panetta said Friday.

Workers kidnapped by the militants came from around the world — Americans, Britons, French, Norwegians, Romanians, Malaysians, Japanese, Algerians.

World leaders have expressed strong concerns in the past few days about how Algeria was handing the situation and its apparent reluctance to communicate.

Terrorized hostages from Ireland and Norway trickled out of the Ain Amenas plant, 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of Algiers, the capital. BP, which jointly operates the plant, said it had begun to evacuate employees from Algeria.

"This is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages," British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday in London.

He told British lawmakers the situation remained fluid and dangerous, saying "part of the threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, a threat still remains in another part."

A U.S. military C-130 transport plane flew a number of people including former Ain Amenas hostages from the Algerian capital of Algiers to a U.S. facility in Europe, a U.S. official said. He declined to be specific about the destination, their nationalities or the extent of the wounds that he said some had.

A flood of foreign energy workers were being evacuated from the North African nation amid security concerns.

BP evacuated one U.S. citizen along with other foreign energy workers from Algeria to Mallorca and then London. The oil giant said three flights left Algeria on Thursday, carrying 11 BP employees and several hundred energy workers from other companies.

A fourth plane was taking more people out of the country on Friday, BP said.

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Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco. AP writers Karim Kebir in Algiers, Lolita Baldor, Eileen Sullivan, Robert Burns and Bradley Klapper in Washington, Lori Hinnant in Paris, and Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.