London, Asharq Al-Awsat – British Prime Minister David Cameron stressed that the Algerian hostage crisis was not over on Friday following a botched rescue attempt by Algerian security forces. Speaking before parliament on Friday, Cameron said, “We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part.”
Algerian state media reported that Special Forces freed some 650 hostages from Islamist militants who seized a gas complex deep in the desert, however the fate of a number of foreign workers remains unknown.
According to the state-run Algerian Press Service news agency, 573 of those taken hostage on Wednesday were Algerian nationals. The report claimed that “”over half” of the 132 foreign workers held in the hostage crisis have been freed, according to a provisional count.
However reports claim that as many as 30 hostages, including several Westerners, were killed during the storming of the gas complex, along with at least 18 of their captors. Other reports claimed that a number of foreign hostages remained unaccounted for on Friday following the failed rescue attempt.
Those still unaccounted for included 10 from Japan, eight Norwegians and a number of Britons put by Cameron at “less than 30”.
Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, eight of whose countrymen remain missing, said fighters still controlled the gas treatment plant itself, while Algerian forces now hold the nearby residential compound that housed hundreds of workers.
The attack was carried out against the wishes of British Prime Minister David Cameron and other western leaders, who had urged Algeria to negotiate with the kidnappers after the captives reported that bombs had been strapped to their bodies. The hostages include citizens from Britain, Norway, Japan, Ireland and the United States.
Speaking before parliament on Friday, Cameron said that he was “disappointed” not to be informed in advance of Algeria’s assault, adding that the country “should be prepared for the possibility of further bad news.”
A local source informed Reuters that the gas facility, which is operated by BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s state oil firm, was still surrounded by Algerian Special Forces on Friday adding that some hostages remain inside.
The Al Qaeda-linked Mulathameen Brigade, whose name means “The Masked Ones”, warned Algerians to “stay away from the installations of foreign companies as we will strike where it is least expected”, according to Mauritania’s ANI news agency.
The Mulathameen Brigade is led by Algerian national Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former mujahedeen in Afghanistan and a veteran of Algeria’s civil war. The group seized the hostages on Wednesday, demanding an end to the French military campaign in Mali where hundreds of French paratroopers and marines have launched a ground offensive against rebels.
Britain’s David Cameron pledged to continue to support the French operations in Mali on Friday, confirming that the “growing” terrorist threat in the Sahel comes from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, adding that this is a “focus, quite rightly, for us and other countries.”
He described the Mulathameen Brigade’s mass kidnapping of foreign workers as a “brutal and savage” terror attack.