Islamists threat to blow up refinery
DEEP foreboding and confusion still surrounded the mass hostage-taking in the Algerian desert last night with around 30 foreign captives thought to be dead or missing.
The crisis continued for a third day yesterday, and a group of around a dozen Islamist militants was still reported to be resisting last night.
According to one report, they were barricaded in a machine room with explosives and an unknown number of hostages and threatening to blow up the industrial part of the site.
The Algerian forces – who provoked international outrage for the brutality of their assault – encircled the raiders but apparently made no new attack.
The Algerian authorities said another 100 foreigners had been rescued when Algerian special forces launched an assault on part of a BP-run gas field in the Sahara desert on Thursday.
The scale of the hostage-taking became clear for the first time as Algerian security sources revealed a multinational group of about 25 to 30 militants trapped 600 Algerians and 132 foreigners from 10 countries at the gas field in Tiguentourine when they attacked on Wednesday. According to the Algerian state news agency last night, "almost 100" of the 132 foreigners and most of the Algerians were freed when the living quarters were stormed.
Two Britons, two Japanese nationals, one Frenchman, an American and eight Algerian civilians are officially reported to have died. The American was last night identified as Frederick Buttaccio, a Texas resident.
Survivors' tales suggested that some "hostages" were never actually captured. A French chef hid under his bed for 40 hours, while three Britons were found in a roof space when Algerian forces freed the living quarters.
Algerian security sources said the militants were mostly young men from Libya, Tunisia and Egypt but there was also one French citizen.
The surviving Islamists, communicating through a news agency in Mauritania, offered to trade two American hostages for two Islamists jailed in the US last night. One of them is the "blind sheikh", Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted for organising the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing. (© Independent News Service)