Cameron condemns 'brutal' hostage taking

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David Cameron has described the "hostage crisis" in Algeria as "brutal and savage" and the perpetrators as "heavily armed and well coordinated."

The prime minister made a statement to MPs about the hostage crisis on 18 January 2013, after chairing a meeting of the government's emergency committee Cobra to discuss the situation.

Islamist militants have been holding foreign hostages at the remote Amenas gas field, near Algeria's border with Libya. Mr Cameron said that hostages included British nationals and those of seven other countries, along with "many Algerians".

The attack is believed to have been ordered by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who the prime minister said was believed to have been operating in Mali and was affiliated to the regional offshoot of Al Qaeda.

The prime minister confirmed that he had not been told a rescue attempt had been mounted by Algerian forces until it had started, but had been told by his Algerian opposite number that their forces had moved in because they "judged there was an immediate threat to the life of the hostages".

Mr Cameron said he nevertheless held the kidnappers fully responsible for the situation.

"We need to be absolutely clear whose fault this is," he told the House, and stressed there was a need "to stand with the Algerian government".

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the government had his party's full support, adding: "It is appalling that innocent and decent people have been targeted in this way."

He called for "all necessary support" to be provided by UK consular services in Algeria.

Conservative MP and former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind recalled Churchill's description of north Africa as the "soft underbelly of Europe" and said Al Qaeda terrorism was a threat to the people of Europe as well as the people of north Africa.

Mr Cameron agreed that "it is a problem for them; it is also a problem for us" and backed French military action in Mali to support the country's military to fight Islamists.

Labour MP Keith Vaz said the fight against terrorism in the region "cannot be conducted by one country alone. It has to be co-ordinated." He urged co-operation with countries in north Africa.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn asked about the "possible consequences" of UK involvement in the region, including in Mali, for long-term peace.

Mr Cameron said he did not see a role for UK combat troops but supported the French involvement in Mali. He argued the situation there posed a threat to Western interests.

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