Search on for missing Algeria hostages

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iol pic afr algeria siege -relative

REUTERS

Mitsunobu, the brother of Rokuro Fuchida, who, according to JGC Corp, has been reported to have been killed during the hostage crisis at a gas plant in Algeria, cries during an interview in Kimotsuki, Kagoshima Prefecture, in this photo taken and provided by Kyodo.

In Amenas, Algeria -

Britain's BP said it fears the worst for employees still unaccounted for in the Algerian hostage siege as authorities searched for five missing foreigners and tried to identify seven charred bodies.

The oil giant, one of three companies running the desert gas plant at In Amenas, plans to hold a minute's silence at its offices around the world on Wednesday for the victims of the four-day stand-off with Islamist militants.

Algeria's government said 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities and an Algerian were killed in the siege by the hostage-takers, who were demanding the release of Islamist prisoners and an end to France's intervention in Mali.

“The gas complex is so big that we are still in the process of looking for bodies, especially those of missing foreigners,” said an official at the sprawling plant, 1 300 kilometres south-east of Algiers.

BP chief executive Bob Dudley warned that there could be little hope for four missing employees of the British company.

“We have been gravely concerned for these colleagues and feared one or more fatalities among their number,” he said. “It is with great sadness that I now have to say that we fear the worst for them all.”

There was still no news about five missing foreign hostages and authorities are trying to identify seven burned bodies, an Algerian security source told AFP.

Algerian TV station Ennahar broadcast what it said was newly emerged video of the hostage-takers, in the open air outside a building in the complex.

The grainy footage showed two gun-toting men in camouflage fatigues. At one point a closely packed group of five or six people appear, their heads showing above a wall, but it is unclear if they are hostages.

The plant, a vital part of Algeria's money-spinning natural-gas industry, is being brought back on stream but questions remain about the Algerian government's handling of the crisis and the shockingly high body count.

Canada's government hauled in the Algerian ambassador to demand proof of official claims in Algiers that two Canadians were among the 29 militants killed by security forces, who brought the standoff to a bloody end on Saturday.

The governments of Japan and Malaysia both expressed frustration at a lack of information about the fate of their nationals and pressed for more clarity from Algiers, as the repatriation of victims' bodies and survivors continued.

The Japanese public have been traumatised at the loss of at least seven nationals in the attack, the country's biggest loss of life at the hands of militants since 9/11, and the government is unable to account for three others.

The Algeria tragedy touched many countries. Six Filipino hostages are known to have died, along with three Americans, three Britons and others.

White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked in his daily briefing whether Washington shared earlier criticism and disquiet raised by Japan and Britain over aspects of the Algerian government's conduct.

“The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns those actions in the strongest possible terms,” Carney said, avoiding a direct answer.

“We will remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future,” he added.

The government has said special forces managed to free 685 Algerian and 107 foreign hostages, most of them on Thursday, during a first rescue operation.

Security has been heavily beefed up at the plant, which is being guarded by the army, while security has been doubled at other energy installations across the country. - Sapa-AFP


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