Algeria hostage crisis ends with 23 people killed

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Algerian troops stormed a remote gas plant on Saturday to end a hostage crisis that killed 23 foreigners and Algerians, seven of them executed by their Islamist captors in a final military assault.

Twenty-one hostages died during the siege that began when the Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen attacked the Ain Amenas facility deep in the Sahara desert at dawn on Wednesday, the interior ministry said.

Algerian Press Service said the troops stormed the facility on Saturday after a four-day standoff in which militants occupied the Ain Amenas natural gas facility in southern Algeria.

Thirty-two kidnappers were also killed, and special forces were able to free “685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners”, it said.

The kidnappers led by Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former Al-Qaeda commander in North Africa, killed two people on a bus, a Briton and an Algerian, before taking hundreds of workers hostage when they overran the gas plant.

Al Arabiya reporter from Algiers said two Americans, one Japanese and one Norwegian were among those killed on Saturday. More foreigners were said to be killed from Britain, France and Romania.

Belmokhtar's “Signatories in Blood” group had been demanding an end to French military intervention against jihadists in neighboring Mali.

The apparent leader of the commando group warned in a recording broadcast Saturday that he would blow up the factory if the army got too close.

In the audio recording, broadcast by the Malian news agency, Al-Mulathameen Brigade commander Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri of Niger spoke late Thursday as the Algerian military surrounded his fighters' position.

Nigeri was said to be a senior lieutenant to the overall leader of the kidnappers, Belmokhtar.

In Saturday's assault, “the Algerian army took out 11 terrorists, and the terrorist group killed seven foreign hostages”, state television said, without giving a breakdown of their nationalities.

A security official who spoke to AFP as army helicopters overflew the plant gave the same death tolls, adding it was believed the foreigners were executed “in retaliation”.

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