independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Gas plant death toll rises to 81

An Algerian army truck is seen in a street of Ain Amenas, near the gas plant where hostages were kidnapped by Islamic militants (AP)

The death toll from the bloody terrorist siege at a natural gas plant in the Sahara climbed to at least 81 as Algerian forces searching the complex for explosives found dozens more bodies, many so badly disfigured they could not immediately be identified, a security official said.

Algerian special forces stormed the facility on Saturday to end the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery, and the government said then 32 militants and 23 hostages were killed but that the death toll was likely to rise.

The militants came from six countries, were armed to cause maximum destruction and mined the In Amenas refinery, which the Algerian state oil company runs along with BP and Norway's Statoil, said Algerian communications minister Mohamed Said.

The militants "had decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages", he said in a state radio interview.

With few details emerging from the remote site of the gas plant in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed on Saturday - seven - was how many the militants had said that morning they still had.

The Algerian security official said the 25 bodies found by bombs squads were so badly disfigured that it was difficult to tell whether they were hostages or attackers. The squads were bombing the plant in the Sahara Desert to defuse mines they said were planted throughout the vast site, not far from the Libyan border.

In addition to the bodies found at the site, a wounded Romanian who had been evacuated and brought home died, raising the overall death toll to at least 81.

The Masked Brigade, founded by Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar, claimed responsibility for the attack. Belmoktar claimed the attack in the name of al Qaida, according to the text from a video the Mauritania-based internet site Sahara Media said it had obtained.

"We at al Qaida are responsible for this operation that we bless," Sahara Media quoted the video as saying. The video was dated January 17, a day after the attack began.

The American government has warned there are credible threats of more kidnapping attempts on Westerners in the North African nation which shares a long border with Mali, where a French intervention is under way to end a threat by Islamist militants holding the country's vast north.

Press Association

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