January 18th, 2013
03:30 PM ET

What we know - and don't - about Algeria hostage situation

Reporting on militants' seizure of workers at a natural-gas complex in eastern Algeria has been a special challenge, in part because outside journalists need a visa and accreditation before they can enter the country.

Access to live information from the Sahara Desert facility which British Prime Minister David Cameron this week noted was "one of the most remote places in the world" and about "18 hours by road from the capital, Algiers" is hard to come by, and conflicting accounts have emerged about the hostages and other aspects of the story.

Here is a look at what CNN has reported from:

WHAT OFFICIAL SOURCES SAY

Initial attack on Wednesday

The incident began when militants attacked workers who were traveling from In Amenas gas field to the In Amenas Airport early Wednesday, Algerian Interior Minister Diho Weld Qabilyeh told Algerian state television. Two people, an Algerian and a Briton, were killed in that attack, according to Algerian and British officials.

After security forces accompanying the workers returned fire, the militants went to the gas installation itself and took hostages, Qabilyeh told Algerian state television.

The remote gas field, about 37 miles west of the Libyan border and about 800 miles from the Algerian capital, Algiers, is run by "a joint venture of the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach, (Britain's) BP and (Norway's) Statoil," according to BP.

Initial hostage situation

The militants, equipped with AK-47 rifles, reportedly put explosives-laden vests on some of the hostages, a U.S. State Department official said.

While Algerian media reports indicated that militants initially had hundreds of hostages, including dozens of foreign workers, CNN doesn’t have from official sources clear information on the number and the nationalities of the people who have been held.

Officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, France, Malaysia, Japan and Ireland have said their nationals were among those involved.

Algerian military attacks; more casualties; some hostages escape

On Thursday, Algerian forces attacked the militants as they were preparing to move the hostages in vehicles, Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said told state television.

Thursday’s military operation left an unspecified number of people dead and injured, Said told state television.

One French citizen was killed and three others were saved in the operation to free hostages, the press office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris said Friday.

However, since Wednesday, some people have been freed or have escaped. Ireland’s government confirmed that one of its citizens, Stephen McFaul, escaped Thursday.

McFaul made a break for freedom after a vehicle he was in one of several targeted by Algerian fighters crashed, with his captors’ explosives still around his neck, his brother Brian McFaul told CNN from Belfast.

Before Thursday’s military raid, some hostages had disguised themselves to escape, according to Regis Amoux, chief executive of the CIS catering firm that had 150 workers who were freed.

The United States on Friday was evacuating between 10 and 20 people, a U.S. defense official told CNN. They will be taken to U.S. facilities in Europe, the official said, and the condition of those who are injured will be assessed.

BP said Friday that a "small number of BP employees" are still unaccounted for, while Statoil said the fate of eight of its employees at In Amenas was still uncertain. Nine other Statoil workers who were at the plant are safe, it said.

By Thursday night, some Americans had been freed and had spoken with relatives back home, while others remained unaccounted for, U.S. officials said.

A State Department official told CNN Wednesday that the abductors are demanding that members of their group who are being held prisoner elsewhere be released and sent to northern Mali. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday that the United States will not negotiate a prisoner exchange with the militants. CNN has not confirmed whether any Americans still were being held.

WHAT CNN HAS REPORTED, CITING OTHER NEWS MEDIA

Number of dead

Twelve hostages have been killed since the Algerian military launched a ground operation on Thursday, the official Algerian news agency said, quoting a security source.

State-run Algerian Radio cited an official source as saying that the major military raid that was launched Thursday was over, but that there was "ongoing activity at various locations" near the plant.

Number of hostages

Hundreds of people, including hundreds of Algerian workers and 132 foreign workers, were taken hostage Wednesday, according to the state-run Algerian Press Service. CNN has not independently confirmed the numbers.

By Friday, 650 hostages have been freed by the Algerian military, according to the state-run Algerian Press Service. Of the 132 foreign workers taken, 100 were released, the agency said. CNN has not independently confirmed the report.

The Al-Mulathameen Brigade initially said that 41 “Westerners, including seven Americans, (as well as) French, British and Japanese citizens have been taken hostage,” the Mauritanian News Agency and Sahara Media report.

Islamist militants claim responsibility

The Al-Mulathameen Brigade, which is associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, claims responsibility for the attack, according to media in the region.

A spokesman for Al-Mulathameen told media in the region that the militants claimed to have carried out the operation because Algeria allowed French forces to use its airspace in attacking Islamist militants in Mali. (However, a U.S. official told CNN that the operation’s sophistication suggests that it likely was planned well in advance of France’s Mali action.)

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

How many people were taken hostage?

How many people have been killed?

Is the attack directly related to the fighting in Mali, as the militants claim?

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Filed under: Algeria • Terrorism
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Vera Waitress

    WAR! WAR! This is our chance for profit! Where is this place! Send troops now! Ker ching! Ker ching!

    January 18, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John

    Doesn't BP have a list of its employees? Which of these workers can now be accounted for? Three days in, I've never seen a more confusing and contradictory story than this one.

    January 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • JohnM

      You want something confusing and contradictory? How about this. Before the story above ever existed, there has been an American citizen being held against his will in Iran. They are going to bring him to trial on Monday over a freedom of speech issue before an Iranian judge known as "the hanging judge." The punishment for his "crime" is death. This judge is known to proceed with execution within 24 hours after the end of trial. Have you heard this? Has CNN or any other major media outlet put any emphasis on this? Has or our President, or Secretary of State made a statement about this or demanded his release. Hell no!

      January 19, 2013 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  3. JC

    If the place is so remote, and you'd only go there if you had a work-related reason to go there (It's not as if it's a beach resort), why in the world do we have no idea how many Americans are there? Are American companies unsure of where they send their employees??

    January 18, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Imputt

    Obama is a coward, Now what do we do

    January 18, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gator Mann

      Hide your guns, before Obama turns this country into the lands our forefathers ran from! Just like the one you just read about.... By the way nobody likes the middle east or north Africa, especially the people who live there.

      January 19, 2013 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  5. Andy

    Why did we not send our Delta or have Britain send their SAS? The SAS has a stellar track record for hostage rescues and high profile operations, if anyone could have pulled it off with no casualties it would have been the lads of the brave 22nd.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. volsocal

    The State Department finally had a few words on this, not much about it in the media, not many people paying attention on a Friday night. Hillary is prepping for her Benghazi testamony. Coincidence?

    January 19, 2013 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  7. Khalid

    Kudos to the Algerian forces that acted swiftly and effectively...They used the russian method : never negociate with terrorists, that teaches them a bad habit : taking more hostages..

    January 19, 2013 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  8. RBaum

    This is one more reason why western foreign policy (primarily US foreign policy) is a failed policy. It's a classic example of blowback. The west gets militarily involved in a country, kills a bunch of people, and then acts surprised when the people of that country hate them and retaliate. Al-Qaeda doesn't just randomly move around the world, converting people to anti-western ideology. These people already have a reason for their hate. Governments start wars and the civilians pay the price. It's sickening.

    January 19, 2013 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Gator Mann

      If you have to buy friends, they are probably not worth having! Or so my Granny said............ wonder why our "wisest" leaders don't know this? Reckon collage ain't all that's its cracked up to be! I'd vote for a High School drop out over this bunch of elected loosers! All of them have the morals of a ally cat in heat..........

      January 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Klavin

    Khalid- we don't have to see the ridiculous wrap you place around your lid-Its not meant as a hat but as a way to contain your brains within – since your dialogue clearly indicates you are a Muslim. So put "a lid" on it. Hold tight your tongue,for you have not yet this battle of hearts,freedom,and minds won.This hate that you espouse, it comes from within and not without.Listen clearly young and old,patriots within or those of old,whose only goal is control of the natural gas and oil, which is their only source resembling gold.Mali-Wowie.It's just a diversion.The only reason the ARABS portray the USA as an aversion,because-and listen clearly-ONE man in the 1930's-assembled a very small group-with it's only goal,to have just like the U.S. of America,to fool & dupe the whole world-to form a U.S.of Arabia,like John D.Rockefeller,HE would have control of ALL of that OIL!All he needed,for all the oil in the region, Start a Fight!Create a Fanatical Frenzy(who cares who dies)Just say it's all cause of RELIGION!!!!!!

    January 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. chrissy

    Wassa matta little mister did your previous gf spring a leak? Too much hot air maybe?

    January 19, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Hamsta

    What we know: Emperor Obama has emboldened the enemy just as Bush told you he would, and tried to lie about it. "Bin laden is dead and Chevy is alive." I will never buy another Chevy, the last one I owned broke down so much I spent more at the repair shop than I paid for a brand new truck and have dragged countless Chevys to the shop with my Toyota which hasn't been to the shop yet, in 10 years. What we don't know: when are we going to get a president with some balls?

    January 20, 2013 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. Hamsta

    What do we know? We know that Chrysler is building a Jeep plant in China. Romney told the truth and Obama spent billions of your money bailing out Chrysler while both Obama and Chrysler lied to you. Chrysler is even junkier than Chevy and now will be made in China, I'm glad I own a Toyota, at least those are built with quality but maybe that's because Toyota is more American made than any American car.

    January 20, 2013 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mary

    @ Hamsta, Romney, like all other candidates gives tidbits of truth to make themselves appear as truth tellers; he's still one of 'them'.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Hamsta

      You are so right Mary, don't trust any politician because they just want what's in your pocket. For instance I figured out what " Hope and change" really means, Obama hopes he can empty all the change from your pocket. Have you seen your W2 yet? Did you reallt think he was only going to tax the rich? Looks like Glenn Beck was 100% correct when he said "Welcome to serfdom.".

      January 20, 2013 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      @ Hamstam, I did read where Obama inteanded on asking for a tax increase well beyony what Congress put forth, and no the rich are sleep with'them' as we'll; 'we' have our own bed.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  14. Hamsta

    What do we know? We know that Clint Eastwood was right, that chair is empty. Obama was to busy campaigning with his gun control crowd to handle al quaeda.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. Hamsta

    Emperor Obama spent trillions of dollars with absolutely nothing to show for it. Does he even care? No, he wants even more money to spend. He doesn't care how much money he wastes because the money comes from your pocket, not his. Take a look at your W2, that's him thanking you.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
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