Sahara hostage holders make new threat

by
January 18, 2013

At least 18 foreign hostages were unaccounted for on Friday and their al-Qaeda-linked captors threatened to attack other energy installations after Algerian forces stormed a desert gas complex to free hundreds of captives, resulting in dozens of deaths.

With Western leaders clamoring for details of a raid they said Algeria had launched on Thursday without consulting them, a local source said the sprawling compound was still surrounded by Algerian special forces and some hostages remained inside.

Thirty hostages, including several Westerners, were killed during the assault, the source said, along with at least 18 of their captors, who said they had taken the site as retaliation for French intervention against Islamists in neighboring Mali.

The crisis represents a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns in the north, and could devastate OPEC member Algeria’s oil industry, just as it recovers from a civil war in the 1990s.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the Algerian government had told him its operation was still going on at mid-morning on Friday. “The death of several hostages is appalling,” he told journalists.

Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed, the Algerian source said.

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