YOLO COUNTY NEWS
Video provided by the SITE Intel Group shows militant leader Moktar Belmoktar, accused by Algerian authorities of planning the deadly strike on a desert gas plant.   AP photo

This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. Algerian officials scrambled Thursday Jan. 17, 2013 for a way to end an armed standoff deep in the Sahara desert with Islamic militants who have taken dozens of foreigners hostage, turning to tribal Algerian Tuareg leaders for talks and contemplating an international force. The group claiming responsibility ó called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade ó says it has captured 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in the surprise attack Wednesday on the Ain Amenas gas plant. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara. (AP Photo/SITE Intel Group) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS PICTURE. MANDATORY CREDIT: SITE Intel Group

Associated Press

Kidnappers say raid killed 35 hostages

By From page A2 | January 17, 2013

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria raided a remote Sahara gas plant on Thursday in an attempt to free dozens of foreign hostages held by militants with ties to Mali’s rebel Islamists, U.K. and Japanese diplomats said. The militants claimed strafing by Algerian helicopters killed 35 hostages and 15 kidnappers.

A spokesman for the Masked Brigade, which claimed responsibility for the attack Wednesday on the Algerian gas plant, said Thursday the survivors included three Belgians, two Americans, a Briton and a Japanese citizen.

The Masked Brigade, which has been speaking through a Mauritanian news outlet, said the Algerians opened fire as the militants tried to leave the vast energy complex with their hostages a day after seizing the installation deep in the desert.

Algeria’s news agency, citing local police, said four foreign hostages were freed in the operation.

The militant spokesman said the leader of the kidnappers, Abou El Baraa, was among those killed. He said the militants would blow up the remaining hostages if Algerian forces approached.

The Algerian government did not immediately comment on the situation, but both Japanese and British authorities confirmed that they had been told by the Algerians there was an ongoing operation to free the hostages. The Associated Press was not able to independently confirm the casualties.

The information came from the Nouakchott Information Agency, which has often carried reports from al-Qaida-linked extremist groups in North Africa.

The militants originally said they had seized 41 foreigners, including Americans, Britons, French, Japanese, Romanians, Malaysians, Irish and Norwegians, among others.

An Algerian security official had said, however, that around 20 foreign hostages had escaped earlier Thursday.

It was not possible to reconcile the conflicting reports from the complex, which is jointly operated by BP, Norway’s Statoil and the Algerian Sonatrach company.

The Algerian government said some 20 militants hit the gas complex at Ain Amenas, 800 miles south of Algiers, the third largest in the country, early Wednesday morning and occupied it, taking hostages. They were then surrounded by the Algerian military and a tense standoff ensued.

The militants had said the gas plant attack came in retaliation for Algeria allowing France to use its airspace to attack al-Qaida-linked rebel groups in neighboring Mali.

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By Aomar Ouali and Paul Schemm

The Associated Press

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