Algerian media aired on Friday the first images of victims in the hostage crisis following a bloody standoff between Islamist militants and the Algerian army at a natural gas plant in the Sahara desert.
Echourouk TV showed images of charred bodies of kidnappers and some foreign hostages.
More than 20 foreigners were still either being held hostage or missing inside the gas plant after Algerian forces stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist militants.
The bloody three-day hostage standoff took a dramatic turn Friday as Algeria’s state news service reported that nearly 100 of the 132 foreign workers kidnapped by Islamic militants had been freed.
That number of hostages at the remote desert facility was significantly higher than any previous report, but it still left questions about the fate of over 30 other foreign energy workers. It wasn’t clear how the government arrived at the latest tally of hostages, which was far higher than the 41 foreigners the militants had claimed previously
An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday’s assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest of the dead still unclear, he said.
Algeria’s state news agency APS put the total number of dead hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.
Norway’s Stoltenberg said some of those killed in vehicles blasted by the army could not be identified. “We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope.”
Northern Irish engineer Stephen McFaul, who survived, said he saw four trucks full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops.
The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.
“We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.
A local Algerian source said 100 of 132 foreign hostages had been freed from the facility. However, other estimates of the number of unaccounted-for foreigners were higher. Earlier the same source said 60 were still missing. Some may be held hostage; others may still be hiding in the sprawling compound.
Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army’s storming, the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.
Those still unaccounted for on Friday included 10 from Japan and eight Norwegians, according to their employers, and a number of Britons which Cameron put at “significantly” less than 30
France said it had no information on two Frenchmen who may have been at the site and Washington has said a number of Americans were among the hostages, without giving details. The local source said a U.S. aircraft landed nearby on Friday.
The attackers had initially claimed to be holding 41 Western hostages. Some Westerners were able to evade capture by hiding.
They lived among hundreds of Algerian employees on the compound. The state news agency said the army had rescued 650 hostages in total, 573 of whom were Algerians.
“(The army) is still trying to achieve a ‘peaceful outcome’ before neutralizing the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held,” it said, quoting a security source.