Fate for hostage crisis Britons
Five British nationals and a UK resident are believed dead or missing as the Algeria hostage crisis reached a bloody and violent climax.
Algerian special forces mounted a "final assault" on the last Islamist militants holding out at the remote BP gas plant at In Amenas, bringing to an end the four-day stand-off in the desert.
The Algerian interior ministry on Saturday night reported that, in all, 23 hostages and all 32 terrorists had died, while 107 foreign workers and 685 local employees had been released. The Algerian authorities were working to dismantle explosives left by the terrorists who booby-trapped the sprawling plant before the final shoot-out.
The interior ministry strongly defended the rescue operation, despite criticism of the high death toll. "To avoid a bloody turn of events in response to the extreme danger of the situation, the army's special forces launched an intervention with efficiency and professionalism to neutralise the terrorist groups that were first trying to flee with the hostages and then blow up the gas facilities," it said in a statement.
It said that troops had recovered an arsenal of six machine guns, 21 rifles, two shotguns, two 60mm mortars with shells, six 60mm missiles with launchers, two rocket-propelled grenades with eight rockets and 10 grenades in explosive belts. Earlier, the state news agency, APS, reported that the terrorists had killed seven of the hostages they were still holding before they were killed themselves by the special forces.
David Cameron said he had spoken to Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal, who confirmed that the military operation against the terrorists was "effectively ended". "I know that the whole country shares my sympathy and concern for everyone who has been caught up in this incident, and for their friends and families," the Prime Minister said in a statement.
"It is our priority now to get people home as quickly as possible and to look after the survivors. Many are already home or on their way back. Let me be clear. There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way. Our determination is stronger than ever to work with allies right around the world to root out and defeat this terrorist scourge and those who encourage it."
Foreign Secretary William Hague said that on the basis of the available information they believed five British nationals and a UK resident were either "deceased or unaccounted for" - in addition to the Briton killed on the opening day of the terrorist attack. We are working hard to get definitive information about each individual. We are in touch with all of the families concerned," he said after chairing the second meeting of the day of the Government's Cobra emergencies committee."
Mr Hague said a plane was on stand-by to bring home survivors. He insisted that it was too early to come to any judgment about the Algerian operation. "I don't want to at this stage enter into criticism or judgment because there will be a lot to be learned yet about this operation," he said.
In contrast, French president Francois Hollande gave his immediate backing to Algeria's tough tactics, saying they were "the most adapted response to the crisis."