Algerian assault ends crisis, 19 hostages dead
Algerian special forces today stormed a natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert in a "final assault" that ended a four-day-old hostage crisis, according to the state news agency and two foreign governments.
At least 19 hostages and 29 Islamist militants have been killed.
The report, quoting a security source, didn't say whether any hostages or militants remained alive, and it didn't give the nationalities of the dead.
It said the army was forced to intervene after a fire broke out in the plant and said the militants killed the hostages. It wasn't immediately possible to verify who killed the captives.
Seven hostages and 11 militants were killed in today's operation, adding to the previous tally of 12 captives and 18 kidnappers.
The Ain Amenas plant is jointly run by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state-owned oil company. The governments of Norway and Britain said they received confirmation the siege was over.
The entire refinery was mined with explosives and set to blow up, the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach said in a statement, adding that the process of clearing the explosives had begun. The Algerian media reported that the militants had planned to blow up the complex.
The siege transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world.
Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of the country's history in confronting terrorists - military action over negotiation - and caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens.
Algerian military forces twice assaulted the areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent negotiation - first on Thursday and then today.
The latest deaths bring the official Algerian tally of dead to 19 hostages and 29 militants, although reports on the number of dead, injured and freed have been contradictory throughout the crisis. Militants originally said they had seized 41 foreign hostages.
The al-Qaida-linked militants attacked the plant on Wednesday morning. They crept across the border from Libya, 100 kilometers away, and fell on a pair of buses taking foreign workers to the airport.
The buses' military escort drove off the attackers in a blaze of gunfire that sent bullets zinging over the heads of crouching workers. A Briton and an Algerian - probably a security guard - were killed.
Frustrated, the militants turned to the vast gas complex, divided between the workers' living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages, the Algerian government said. The gas flowing to the site was cut off.
On Thursday, Algerian helicopters opened fire on a convoy carrying both kidnappers and their hostages, resulting in many deaths, according to witnesses.
In their final communications, the militants said they were holding seven hostages: three Belgian, two Americans, a Japanese and a Briton. They had threatened to kill them if the Algerian army attacked.
Algerian authorities estimated that about 30 militants occupied the Ain Amenas site Wednesday and with 18 already reported dead, it appeared today that the hostage crisis was finally over.