ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found "numerous" new bodies on Sunday as they searched for explosive traps left behind by the attackers, a security official said, a day after a bloody raid ended the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the bodies were badly disfigured and difficult to identify.
"The bodies could be either Algerian or foreign hostages," he said.
Algerian special forces stormed the natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end the standoff, and the government said all 32 militants were killed. Earlier Sunday, Algeria's chief government spokesman said he feared the toll of hostages — which stood at 23 on Saturday — would rise as the special forces teams finished their search.
One American, a Texan — Frederick Buttaccio from the Houston suburb of Katy — was among the dead. U.S. officials told The Associated Press Buttaccio's remains were recovered Friday.
He said the militants came from six countries and were armed to cause maximum destruction. Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway's Statoil, said the entire refinery had been mined.
"They had decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages," said Communications Minister Mohamed Said, speaking on a state radio interview.
The American government had warned that there were credible threats of more kidnapping attempts on Westerners.
With few details emerging from the remote site in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed Saturday — seven — was how many the militants had said that morning they still had.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday that three Britons were killed and another three are believed dead, along with a foreigner who was living in Britain. He said that 22 Britons who survived the ordeal are now back in Britain.
"Now, of course, people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack," Cameron said.
The siege at Ain Amenas transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex on Wednesday, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world, then held them hostage surrounded by the Algerian military and its attack helicopters for four tense days that were punctuated with gun battles and dramatic tales of escape.
Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation — first on Thursday, then on Saturday.
"To avoid a bloody turn of events in response to the extreme danger of the situation, the army's special forces launched an intervention with efficiency and professionalism to neutralize the terrorist groups that were first trying to flee with the hostages and then blow up the gas facilities," Algeria's Interior Ministry said in a statement about the standoff.