Around 32 “terrorists,” who were behind the Algerian hostage crisis, hailed from northern Mali, Algeria’s Prime Minister Abdumalik Salal told reporters in a press conference on Monday.
The purpose of the operation by the 32-member al-Qaeda-linked group was to embolden their negotiation clout and that’s by increasing the number of the hostages under their control as they already have a number of captives in Mali, Salal said.
The terrorist group initially intended to hijack a bus carrying oil and gas workers in the Algerian desert that also had a manager from the British oil and gas company, BP.
“The Algerian army was successful and professional in not allowing the militants to take the hostages to Mali,” he added.
In another operation, the militants wanted to detonate a gas compound on Friday but the Algerian Special Forces were “professional” in preventing the disaster from happening.
The death toll according to Salal was 37 hostages who were killed by the militants. The victims came from eight countries; however, the identity of seven slain hostages couldn’t be identified.
The whereabouts of five hostages are still unknown, he said.
Meanwhile, a Canadian national, named Shadad, was among the militants who kidnapped the foreign workers.
According to Reuters, Canada is seeking more details on reports that a Canadian was involved in the Algerian hostage-taking, the foreign affairs department said on Monday.
The Qaeda-linked militants, who were angry at French intervention in Mali, wanted to send a clear message: they could strike anywhere in the Sahara including terrorizing hundreds of foreigners from different backgrounds in Algeria.
Recapturing of key frontline towns in Mali
Meanwhile,French and Malian troops recaptured the key frontline towns of Diabaly and Douentza on Monday in a major boost to their push north to flush out Qaeda-linked rebels, AFP reported.
The inroads are a significant advance in the 11-day offensive led by former colonial power France, whose aim is the “total re-conquest” of Mali’s strategically important but sparsely populated vast desert north.
The French defense ministry in Paris said “Malian troops backed by French soldiers” retook the two towns in a “definite military victory” for the forces.
A convoy of about 30 armored vehicles transporting some 200 Malian and French troops moved into Diabaly, 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the capital Bamako, early Monday, meeting no resistance.
The troops got a red carpet welcome from locals who cheered them as the soldiers took photographs on their mobile phones to record the triumphant entry, an AFP journalist said.
Diabaly has been the theater of air strikes and fighting since it was seized by Islamists a week ago.
Douentza lies in what was Islamist territory east and north of the town of Konna, whose capture earlier this month by extremists sparked the French intervention. Konna was recaptured by the Malian army last week.
Mali extends state of emergency
Meanwhile, Mali late Monday extended a state of emergency in place since January 12 for three months amid the French-led military offensive to flush out the Qaeda-linked Islamists from the north.
The decision was taken at a special cabinet meeting.