The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

January 19, 2013

Algeria launches 'final assault'; 7 hostages dead

AIN AMENAS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria's special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert on Saturday in a "final assault" aimed at ending a four-day-old hostage crisis, the state news agency reported. It said 11 militants and seven hostages were killed.

The report, quoting a security source, didn't say whether any hostages or militants remained alive, and it didn't give the nationalities of the dead. It said the army was forced to intervene after a fire broke out in the plant.

The siege at the Ain Amenas plant, jointly run by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state-owned oil company, transfixed the world after radical Islamists stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world.

Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of the country's history in confronting terrorists — military action over negotiation — and caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens.

The latest deaths bring the official Algerian tally of dead to 19 hostages and 29 militants, although reports on the number of dead, injured and freed have been contradictory throughout the crisis.

The militants attacked the plant Wednesday morning. They crept across the border from Libya, 60 miles (100 kilometers) away, and fell on a pair of buses taking foreign workers to the airport. The buses' military escort drove off the attackers in a blaze of gunfire that sent bullets zinging over the heads of crouching workers. A Briton and an Algerian — probably a security guard — were killed.

Frustrated, the militants turned to the vast gas complex, divided between the workers' living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages, the Algerian government said. The gas flowing to the site was cut off.

On Thursday, Algerian helicopters opened fire on a convoy carrying both kidnappers and their hostages, resulting in many deaths, according to witnesses.

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