TSA, EL WATAN (Algeria), SUD OUEST, LE MONDE, NOUVEL OBS (France)
ALGIERS – At least 25 Western hostages held at an Algerian gas facility have escaped Thursday. News reports say Americans and Japanese are among those freed. There are also unconfirmed reports that several of the hostages have been killed after Algerian security forces had surrounded the gas facilities where Islamist terrorists were holding more than 100 hostages, including an estimated 41 Westerners, in a potentially explosive standoff linked to France's intervention in neighboring Mali.
As many as 30 Algerians managed to escape earlier on Thursday morning, a day after being taken hostage during the Islamist attack of the foreign-run station in eastern Algeria that left a British and Algerian dead.
The local news service TSA reported that one of the Algerian workers who was transported from the site by helicopter called on security forces to intervene quickly. The Algerian army has reportedly launched several attempts to free the hostages from the gas extraction site jointly run by Algerian, British and Norwegian energy companies.
The Westerners, who are believed to be held by the terrorist outfit, include Americans, French, Norwegian and Japanese.
Among those who managed to escape was a 52-year-old Frenchman said that “they were treated respectfully” by their captors, reports French daily Sud Ouest. Still, other reports said that the attackers had strapped explosive belts to several of the captives.
A la une d'El Khabar : "Al-Qaida frappe dans les profondeurs du Sahara algérien" bit.ly/SOKVRNtwitter.com/courrierinter/…
— Courrier inter (@courrierinter) Janvier 17, 2013
HERE ARE ADDITIONAL RECENT UPDATES:
*Algeria’s green light for French military planes to fly in the country's air space is one of the reasons this attack happened on its soil, according to Algerian daily El Watan.
*This particular Islamic group is reported to be led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, affiliated with al Qaeda, who is believed to be missing an eye and is known to French security services as "The Uncatchable."
*The French government says that it “completely trusts” the Algerian military to handle the situation.
*Ansar Dine, the Islamic group that controls large parts of northern Mali, condemned the terrorist attack in Algeria. “Ansar Dine never took hostages or anything related to this. We strongly condemn this attack,” said a spokesman for the group.
*British Foreign Minister William Hague stated that the terrorists have “no excuse” and that this situation was “unacceptable,” relays Le Monde.
*The Algerian Foreign Ministry stated: “We won’t negotiate. We heard their demand but we won’t gratify it with an answer,” reports the Nouvel Obs.
*Algerian helicopters are believed to be firing on the site, with reports that two Japanese men were wounded in this air strike.
*Le Monde’s correspondent says that the site is too large for the terrorists to control, and the Algerian military should have the capacity to infiltrate the facility.