|Algeria rejects deal with gunmen holding Malaysian, Filipino, and American hostages at gas plant
Algerian troops have surrounded gunmen who seized 41 hostages in a raid on a gas field.
The Guardian reported the Algerian interior minister, Daho Ould Kablia, as saying that Algerian troops had surrounded a wing of the living quarters at the Ain Amenas gas field on the Algerian border with Libya. “We reject all negotiations with the group, which is holding some 20 hostages from several nationalities.’
The gunmen told Mauritanian media they were holding 41 people including French, British and Japanese citizens, as well as seven Americans in reprisal, they said, for the French assault against Islamists in neighboring Mali and Algeria's cooperation, AFP reports.
One Briton and an Algerian were killed in the attack, Algeria's Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said. Six people were wounded: another Briton, a Norwegian and a Scotsman, as well as an Algerian security agent and two policemen.
During a visit to Australia today, British Foreign Secretary William Hague has rejected claims the raid was retaliation for France's offensive in Mali. “That is a convenient excuse, but usually operations like this take longer to plan. Whatever excuse is being used by terrorists and murderers, there is no excuse. This is the cold-blooded murder of people going about their business.’’
While Washington and Tokyo said their nationals were among the hostage, French President Francois Hollande said it was not certain that French citizens were being held.
French news channel France 24 reported that Malaysian and Filipino nationals were also among the hostages.
Algerian Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia, speaking on national television, insisted Algiers would not negotiate with the “terrorists,’’ who he said were surrounded by the army and security services.
The In Amenas gas field near the Libyan border is jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and state-run Algerian energy firm Sonatrach.
A worker at the scene told AFP by phone that the armed group was demanding freedom for 100 Islamists held in Algeria in exchange for the hostages.
A group calling itself ‘Signatories for Blood’ claimed responsibility in a post to the Mauritanian website Alakhbar saying it was in retaliation for the French intervention in Mali and Algeria's cooperation.
“Algeria was chosen for this operation to teach [President Abdelaziz] Bouteflika that we will never accept the humiliation of the Algerian people's honor... by opening Algerian airspace to French planes,'' it said.
The group called for an end to the French offensive.
Hague said Britain was working closely with Algeria over the crisis.
Japanese engineering firm JGC said five Japanese workers were believed to have been seized.