JIHADISTS VOW MORE ATTACKS … ‘WE’RE LOOKING FOR CHRISTIANS’
ALGIERS, Jan 21, (Agen-cies): Thirty-seven foreigners of eight different nationalities, as well as an Algerian, were killed by hostage-takers in a well-planned attack on a remote gas plant, some of them brutally executed.
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said five other foreigners were still missing and that some of the hostages had been executed “with a bullet to the head” as the four-day crisis ended in a bloodbath on Saturday.
Most of the 32 militants who took hundreds of people hostage at the In Amenas gas complex in the Sahara on Wednesday had entered the country from neighbouring Mali, Sellal told a news conference in Algiers.
The premier gave the final grim figures after Algeria had warned other nations to prepare for a higher body count, amid fears as many as 50 captives may have died in the world’s deadliest hostage crisis in almost a decade.
“Thirty-seven foreigners of eight different nationalities,” were killed during the siege, Sellal told reporters, with the death of an Algerian bringing the overall toll to 38.
He did not specify the nationalities of the foreigners, but other official sources have already confirmed that one Frenchman, one American, two Romanians, three Britons, six Filipinos and seven Japanese died in the siege.
Survivors’ photos seen by AFP showed bodies riddled with bullets, some with their heads half blown away by the impact of the gunfire.
Five Norwegian nationals remain unaccounted for, while Malaysian authorities say they have had no news about two of their nationals.
Foreign leaders initially accused Algeria of keeping them in the dark when it rushed ahead with the assault and urged caution for the sake of the hostages but then focused criticism on the Islamist militants behind the attack.
“The terrorist attack was planned over the past two months,” Sellal said, adding the group’s leader was Mohamed el-Amine Bencheneb, an Algerian militant known to the country’s security services, who was killed in the siege.
A total of 29 militants were killed and three captured in the siege which ended in a final showdown between special forces and the remaining militants holed up in the sprawling In Amenas gas complex.
Eleven of the hostage-takers, who were demanding an end to French military intervention in Mali, were Tunisian and another three Algerian, with the rest Canadian, Egyptian, Malian, Nigerian and Mauritanian.
Governments have been scrambling to track down missing citizens as more as more harrowing details emerged of the siege.
One Japanese survivor was quoted in the Daily Yomiuri newspaper as telling colleagues how the gunmen had dragged him from his barricaded room, handcuffed him and executed two hostages standing nearby.
“They were brutally executed,” said an Algerian who identified himself as Brahim, after escaping the ordeal, referring to some of the Japanese victims gunned down by the hostage-takers.
The alleged mastermind of the hostage-taking, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, said in a video posted online that it was carried out by 40 fighters from the Muslim world and “European countries”.
His al-Qaeda-linked group “Signatories in Blood” threatened to stage attacks on nations involved in the French-led operation to evict Islamists from Algeria’s neighbour Mali, and said it had been open to negotiations.
“But the Algerian army did not respond… preferring to stage an attack which led to the elimination of the hostages,” it said in a message published by the Mauritanian news agency ANI.
Most hostages were freed on Thursday in the first Algerian rescue operation, which was initially viewed by foreign governments as hasty, before the focus of public condemnation turned on the jihadists.
The In Amenas plant is run by Britain’s BP, Norway’s Statoil and Sonatrach of Algeria.
An Algerian employee of BP who identified himself as Abdelkader said he was at a security post with colleagues on Wednesday morning when he saw a jeep with seven people inside smash through the barrier and screech to a halt.
One of the militants got out of the vehicle, demanded their mobile phones and ordered them not to move, before disabling the security cameras.
“He said: ‘You are Algerians and Muslims, you have nothing to fear. We’re looking for Christians, who kill our brothers in Mali and Afghanistan and plunder our resources’.”
Algerian forces have found the bodies of two Canadian Islamist fighters after a bloody siege at a desert gas plant, a security source said on Monday, as the death toll reached at least 80 after troops stormed the complex to end the hostage crisis.
The militants had said during the standoff that their group included Canadians, and hostages who had escaped recalled hearing at least one of the militants speaking English with a North American accent.
In addition to the Canadians, the Algerian prime minister said the militant cell included men from Egypt, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Tunisia, as well as three Algerians.
Officials in Canada could not immediately confirm whether two of the attackers were citizens.
“Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms this deplorable and cowardly act and all terrorist groups which seek to create and perpetuate insecurity,” said Chrystiane Roy, a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“We are pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information and are in close contact with Algerian authorities,” she said in a statement.
The Algerian prime minister indicated that this operation was not — as the Islamists had claimed — an immediate reaction to France’s recent military intervention against Islamists in neighboring Mali, since the captured militants said it took two months of planning. But he said the group did come from northern Mali, hundreds of miles away from the gas plant.
He said they included a former driver at the complex from Niger and “knew the facility’s layout by heart.” They wore Algerian military uniforms, he said, bolstering accounts by escaped hostages that they didn’t just shoot their way in.
“Four attackers stepped out of a car that had flashing lights on top of it,” one of the former hostages, Liviu Floria, a 45-year-old mechanic from Romania, told The Associated Press.
The prime minister said “the last words of the terrorist chief” was to slaughter the hostages.
“He gave the order for all the foreigners to be killed, so there was a mass execution, many hostages were killed by a bullet to the head,” he said.
Meanwhile, three US citizens were killed in last week’s hostage standoff at a natural gas complex in Algeria, while seven Americans made it out safely, Obama administration officials said Monday.
The State Department confirmed that gas workers Victor Lynn Lovelady and Gordon Lee Rowan were killed at the Ain Amenas gas field in the Sahara. US officials had earlier identified Texas resident Frederick Buttaccio among the dead.
“We extend our deepest condolences to their families and friends,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
Algeria says 38 hostages of all nationalities and 29 militants died in the standoff. Five foreign workers remain unaccounted for
“The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms,” Nuland added. “We will continue to work closely with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of the terrorist attack of last week and how we can work together moving forward to combat such threats in the future.”
A US official had told The Associated Press earlier Monday that the FBI had recovered Lovelady’s and Rowan’s bodies and notified their families. The official had no details on how the Americans died, and their hometowns were not released.
Militants who attacked the gas field had offered to release Lovelady and Rowan in exchange for the freedom of two prominent terror suspects jailed in the United States: Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind sheik 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 US soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration rejected the offer.
Last week’s desert siege began Wednesday when Mali-based, al-Qaeda-linked militants attempted to hijack two buses at the plant, were repelled and then seized the gas refinery. They said the attack was retaliation for France’s recent military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighboring Mali, but the captured militants told Algerian officials it took two months to plan.
Five Americans were taken out of the country before Saturday’s final assault by Algerian forces against the militants.
The US official said the remaining two Americans survived the four-day crisis at an insecure oilrig at the facility. They were flown to London on Saturday.
The State Department’s Nuland confirmed that seven Americans made it out safely, but said she couldn’t provide further details because of privacy considerations.