, NOUAKCHOTT, Jan 17 – The Algerian military launched on Thursday an air and ground assault on a desert gas complex where Islamists were still holding an unknown number of hostages, one of the kidnappers told the ANI news agency.
“Warplanes and ground units have begun an operation to take the complex by force,” the spokesman said, threatening to “kill all the hostages if the Algerian forces succeed in entering the complex.”
Earlier, Algeria’s APS news agency said the army had freed four foreign hostages, including two Britons, a Frenchman and a Kenyan, and 600 Algerian workers being held at the In Amenas plant, in southeastern Algeria.
The report, citing local sources, said an unspecified number of people were killed in the rescue operation, after the kidnapper’s spokesman claimed that an army air strike killed 34 hostages and 15 Islamists.
The head of a French catering company had said that 150 of its Algerian employees were being held at the gas plant, near the Libyan border.
The Islamist gunmen launched their attack on Wednesday morning, killing two people including one Briton, and taking scores of Algerians and 41 foreigners hostage, among them American, British, French, Irish, Norwegian and Japanese citizens.
A foreign diplomat in Algiers confirmed that the rescue mission “did not go too well for the hostages,” adding that the operations were ongoing late afternoon.