17 January 2013 Last updated at 20:39

As it happened: Algeria hostage siege

Key Points

  • Hours after Algerian forces moved in against hostage-takers at a desert gas facility in eastern Algeria, state news agency APS says the military operation has ended.
  • Islamist gunmen attacked a bus and a complex at In Amenas on Wednesday, taking foreign and local workers hostage.
  • It is now clear that some of the hostages were killed and wounded in the Algerian operation.
  • Although Algeria says some hostages were freed, UK PM David Cameron warns of "further bad news".
  • Algeria has identified the gunmen as militants who follow Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist with al-Qaeda links.
  • The gunmen have reportedly said their attack is a reaction to French military intervention in neighbouring Mali.

    Welcome to our live coverage of the Algerian hostage siege. We will bring you updates as the situation develops with expert analysis from BBC correspondents and comment from readers.


    The hostages were seized on Wednesday morning after heavily armed militants attacked a bus leaving the plant but were repelled by their police escort.


    Algerian security forces who surrounded the site said there would be no negotiation with the militants.


    Algeria's prime minister informed UK Prime Minister David Cameron in the last hour that an operation was under way at the site, the UK Foreign Office says.


    Algerian forces acted today as the hostage-takers tried to move some of the hostages to a safer place, Mauritania's ANI news agency reports, quoting a militant spokesman.


    ANI reports that the hostage-takers' leader, Abu Al Baraa, was killed during the Algerian operation, according to France's Le Point magazine.

    1403: Breaking News

    Six foreign hostages and eight militants have been killed in the operation, Reuters reports, quoting a local source. It adds that 180 hostages escaped.

    1410: Clea Caulcutt, BBC News, Paris reports

    Algeria's Communication Ministry has told the BBC it cannot confirm deaths during the military operations at the site. An official statement is expected when the operations are complete.


    French President Francois Hollande is quoted on Le Figaro website as saying: "The situation there is confused and I'm in contact with the Algerian authorities... I won't give any precise number of our compatriots... the best thing is to say as little as possible."


    How were the hostages seized? What nationality are they? Who are the gunmen? What may have motivated them? Read our Q&A.


    Another update from Mauritania's ANI news agency, which cannot be verified independently: two "Americans", three Belgians, one British national and one Japanese person are still being held, according to a hostage-taker.


    This photo shows Norway's hostage crisis team at work in Oslo today. Norwegians are among the workers seized by the militants.

    Staff handling the hostage situation in Algeria work at the Norwegian foreign department in Oslo, 17 January

    At least 20 foreign hostages, including a number of Americans, managed to escape from the site earlier today, US broadcaster Fox News reports. Some of the Americans have reportedly called home to their families.


    Some call him Mr Marlboro for his tobacco-smuggling activities but Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the man accused of ordering the attack on the gas facility, is a seasoned militant with ties to al-Qaeda and an Islamist pedigree going back to the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Read our profile.


    Some of the hostages who managed to escape have been flown out from the airport at In Amenas, according to sources quoted by Algerian news outlet Algerie-Focus.

    1431: Breaking News

    Algerian soldiers have freed four foreign hostages, the state news agency APS reports.


    Earlier statements by the hostage-takers said the attack was a response to France's military operation in neighbouring Mali. French and Malian ground forces have been against Islamist fighters.

    No 10 Downing Street

    tweets: PM will chair another Cobra [emergency response meeting] this afternoon on the developing situation in Algeria

    The UK Foreign Office

    tweets: British Embassy in Algiers is liaising with local authorities and we are providing full support to families of those affected

    1446: Frank Gardner, BBC News security correspondent

    reports: A UK Government official has confirmed to me that a "proactive Algerian military operation to free the hostages is under way". They cannot confirm if there is any truth in militant claims of a helicopter strike killing kidnappers and captives in a bus.

    Senam Beheton, a blogger on West Africa

    tweets: Why are @ap @Reuters and @AFP still relaying information from "militant spokesman" in Algeria???


    A reminder that the gas installation is deep in the Sahara Desert, as shown by the undated photo here.

    The In Amenas gas plant in Algeria (undated image)
    Kenny, Harstad, Norway

    emails: British, living in Norway, work for Statoil. Grim times indeed.


    According to an unconfirmed report, the militants are saying 35 hostages were killed when Algerian helicopters strafed the gas site. The report is from the Mauritanian news agency ANI, which quoted a spokesman for the militants.


    Two British hostages from Scotland, a Kenyan and a French hostage have been freed by the army, the Algerian state news agency APS reports, quoting local sources.

    Another source told APS that half the foreign hostages had been freed, without giving numbers or nationality. There were several victims in the operation to free the hostages, the same sources said. Two 4x4 vehicles were targeted by the army as they tried to escape, leading to a violent clash, the agency added.

    Steven A. Cook

    tweets: I'm not a guns and trucks kid but air strikes don't seem like they would be effective if one were trying to rescue hostages


    BP, which is involved in the gas plant, has said non-essential workers are being moved out of Algeria as a precautionary measure. Chief executive Bob Dudley said: "Supporting these families is our priority and we are doing all we can to help during this sad and uncertain time."


    BP: "Sadly, there have been some reports of casualties but we are still lacking any confirmed or reliable information. There are also reports of hostages being released or escaping."


    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says Algeria knows more than most about the "absolute evil" of terrorism.

    "Live From Mogadishu"

    tweets: 35 hostages & 15 hostage takers killed in Algeria air strike. Via AJE. Who the hell uses air strikes to rescue hostages?!


    Almost 600 Algerian workers at the gas facility were freed by the army, Algeria's APS state news agency reports. Earlier, 30 were reported to have escaped. Unlike the Western workers, it is not thought the Algerians were being treated as hostages on the site.

    Dougie Mccann

    tweets: Sad news coming out of Algeria, huge army but young conscripts. Loved my time there, Taught me so much, thoughts with all

    Katy, Scotland

    emails: This is a severe method of deterrence with devastating consequences. How effective will this really prove in the long run? A sad day for innocent people just trying to make a living. I can only hope that the initial reports are exaggerated and that most of the hostages have survived this. My husband works in politically volatile countries within the oil industry and this is one of the dangers being faced by us.

    Camille Touraine

    tweets (in French): The Putin method: tough but effective in the long term. Discourages terrorists. For the families, it's another story


    Japanese engineering firm JGC is working at the plant and some of the hostages are believed to Japanese. Here Takeshi Endo, the company's public relations manager, is seen with the press at company HQ in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

    Takeshi Endo, public relations manager of Japanese plant construction company JGC is surrounded by press at company HQ in Yokohama, suburban Tokyo, 17 January

    An Algerian news website, TSA, says the army is now in full control of the gas facility. No figures available on number of casualties, the website adds.


    If you have just joined us, welcome to our live coverage of the Algerian hostage siege. Security forces have mounted a military operation to free the captives being held by Islamist gunmen at a gas site in the Sahara Desert. At least four foreign hostages were released while others escaped. There are unconfirmed reports of casualties among the remaining captives.


    Twelve employees of Norway's Statoil company were caught up in the crisis. Foreign ministry spokesman Kjetil Elsebutangen has said he is unable to confirm or deny whether any Norwegians managed to escape.


    A Belfast man among the hostages has been freed and has spoken to his wife. Stephen McFaul, 36, was being held along with other foreign nationals.

    Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive

    tweets: I sympathise with Algeria. They never wanted this Mali operation as a result of past experience with insurgency. Now 2nd phase is playing out

    Jerry, Middlesbrough

    emails: I had 2 happy years there and would have recommended working there to anyone. Hope all my ex-colleagues are safe and sound.


    Norwegian employees of Statoil have been caught up in the siege. Here Statoil chief executive Helge Lund (L) and director of foreign operations Lars Christian Bacher leave after a meeting at the company's headquarters in Stavanger, Norway, today.

    Statoil chief executive Helge Lund (L) and director of foreign operations Lars Christian Bacher leave after a meeting at the company's headquarters in Stavanger, Norway, 17 January

    A correspondent at Algeria's El Watan newspaper has told Le Monde in France that the army operation is over.

    1618: Breaking News

    Reuters: UK Prime Minister David Cameron told his Algerian counterpart, after the Algerian rescue operation began, that he was "extremely concerned" about the "very grave and dangerous situation", a spokesman for Mr Cameron says.


    The Algerian government said it had had to act "immediately" to intervene in the hostage crisis, according to Downing Street.


    Mr Cameron made clear that he would have preferred to be informed in advance of the military action, his spokesman says.

    1627: David Martin, CBS News national security correspondent

    reports: A US drone has arrived over the Algerian gas plant, giving the US its first look at what is happening.


    The Algerian military had a plan to retake the facility and there were casualties among both the militants and hostages, including "multiple" deaths, CBS News reports, quoting a diplomatic source.


    emails: My husband is currently working at an oil compound in Algeria. Before he left this Monday, I joked that whenever I thought of "oil compounds" the image of a siege by terrorists came to mind. Never in my worst nightmares could I have guessed this could become reality. My husband tells me the Algerian employees with him are all very shocked that such an attack could occur in Algeria - it had been a relatively safe country. I can't imagine what the families of those affected must be going through. For myself, I will pray until my husband gets home safely.


    tweets: Keep checking news for updates on hostage situation at In Amenas gas facility in Algeria. Still shocked to think my OH used to work there.


    A sister of freed Belfast hostage Stephen McFaul has spoken of the family's delight at hearing he is okay. "I feel so sorry for the rest of the families who have lost loved ones and others who are missing," she added. She said her brother was currently with officials in Algeria in a debriefing exercise.


    We still have no images from the scene of the siege and no first-hand information on what actually happened.


    Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide will give a news conference at 17:55 GMT, the foreign ministry has told BBC News. "We have no confirmed information to share with you at this stage," it added.


    "Norway has a fairly large team working around the clock trying to establish the facts," the foreign ministry spokesman added. "We're sending a team to Algeria including members of the foreign ministry, health personnel, police officers and so on. The Norwegian prime minister spoke to his Algerian counterpart and was informed of the action."


    Twelve people working for Norway's Statoil company were caught up in today's events, the company has confirmed. A Statoil news conference is to follow immediately after the prime minister's statement this evening. The government says the oil company is looking after the families at the moment.

    Jose Miguel Sardo

    tweets: Reports of a large explosion at the In Amenas gas complex in Algeria after end of military assault.


    All contact has been cut between the hostage-takers and the Mauritanian news agency ANI, to which the militants sent statements, the Algerie Focus news outlet reports.


    The White House says it is seeking clarity about the events at the gas site.


    The militants said earlier that three Belgians were among seven people to have survived the army raid but Belgium's foreign ministry says there is now sufficient evidence to conclude there were no Belgians at the site.

    Dale, South Africa

    emails: I worked there for around a year during 2009/10, and used to travel the road between the complex and the airport 3 times a week. I am holding thumbs for all my ex-colleagues out there.


    Japan has asked Algeria to stop its operation at the gas facility and not to endanger the lives of hostages.


    The White House says US President Barack Obama has been briefed regularly about developments regarding the siege.


    French President Francois Hollande says he does not yet have "sufficient elements to evaluate" the events at the gas plant despite being briefed regularly by the Algerian authorities. The situation there, he says, "seems to be playing out in dramatic conditions".


    Mr Hollande added that the situation in Algeria justified even more his decision to intervene militarily in Mali.


    Algerian media have been breaking much of the news about the military operation. Here a man reads a paper in the capital, Algiers, which has the headline "Terrorist attack and hostage-taking in In Amenas".

    Man reads newspaper in Algiers, 17 January

    President Hollande's full words: "What's happening in Algeria provides further evidence that my decision to intervene in Mali was justified."

    1808: Breaking News

    Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said Belaid: "Unfortunately we deplore some deaths and some people wounded. We don't yet have the numbers."


    Mr Belaid told Algerian TV that all measures were taken to rescue hostages. Several Algerian and foreign hostages were freed. "The operation is still going on."


    At a news conference in Oslo, PM Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said the situation in Algeria remained unclear. The prime minister said it was not yet known whether the military operation had failed or succeeded. His Algerian counterpart had told him the military had had no other choice but to move in, he said.


    tweets: Japan has asked Algeria to stop its operation at the gas facility and not to endanger the lives of hostages.


    World Have Your Say on BBC World Service Radio is getting the latest on the Algerian hostage situation. If you'd like to listen live click here. And if you have questions for their guests you can post them online.

    PM Jens Stoltenberg (R) and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide Norway's prime minister (R) and foreign minister speaking to reporters in Oslo

    Norway's PM Jens Stoltenberg (seen here on the right) told reporters that the government was told as soon as the operation was under way.


    UK Foreign Office describes events in Algeria as an "appalling tragedy".

    1841: Breaking News

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron says: "It's a fluid, ongoing and very uncertain situation... we should be prepared for further bad news."


    Mr Cameron postpones Friday's keynote speech in the Netherlands on UK's future in Europe because of the Algerian crisis, his Downing Street office says.


    UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt says: "Although details have yet to become final, I'm afraid we should be under no illusion that there will be some bad and distressing news to follow from this terrorist attack."

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron says Algerian forces attacked the compound and it is a "very dangerous" and "extremely difficult situation". Cobra (UK government emergency response committee) officials are working around the clock to keep in contact with families and build the fullest possible picture from intelligence and information from Algeria, he adds.


    Mr Cameron "spoke to President Obama this afternoon and shared the latest developments in Algeria and agreed that their priority was to establish the facts on the ground", a Downing Street spokesman says.

    Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said Belaid

    The Algerian communications minister, Mohamed Said Belaid, told Algerian TV that the army had been forced to surround the site and fire warning shots. But when the militants refused to surrender and tried to flee the country with the hostages the raid was launched. "An important number of terrorists have been neutralised during this operation," he said.


    If you have just joined us, welcome to the BBC News live page on the Algerian hostage crisis. It is now clear that an operation carried out by Algeria's security forces has resulted in bloodshed. The Algerian government says the army was forced to go into the gas field complex in a remote desert area of eastern Algeria. The number of deaths and injuries is unknown, but the UK prime minister says the situation is "extremely difficult" and further bad news is likely.


    Japanese citizens working for engineering firm JGC Corporation are known to be caught up in the crisis. Broadcaster NHK says at least three were taken hostage.


    Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi has flown to Algiers to speak to government officials. In Tokyo, the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, tells reporters Mr Kiuchi "urged the Algerian government to stop the operation immediately", AFP reports.


    tweets: 9 Norwegians remain unaccounted for #Algeria military operation at #Amenas gas field is still going on


    In his news conference, Norwegian PM Jens Stoltenberg was careful not to criticise the Algerian security forces for opening fire at the gas complex. Earlier, the UK prime minister's spokesman said Mr Cameron would have preferred to have been informed of the operation in advance.


    A statement to the UK parliament will be given by ministers on Friday morning on the crisis in Algeria. Information coming out of Algeria remains incomplete, officials say.

    1953: Breaking News

    Algerian state news agency APS quotes official saying military operation is over.


    Worker at In Amenas gas facility tells Le Monde newspaper one of the militants spoke English with a perfect accent. The militants knew the complex well and were apparently of various nationalities: Egyptian, Tunisian, Algerian and one from Mali or Nigeria. When the armed forces attacked, Algerian hostages panicked and fled in their hundreds, he says.


    Whitehall sources tell the BBC they are preparing for news of multiple British casualties in Algeria, BBC political editor Nick Robinson says.


    The major military operation may be over, but the UK government has been told the plant is still being searched, the BBC's Nick Robinson says. It is feared that as yet unconfirmed reports of as many as 35 dead of many nationalities will prove to be correct.


    Unconfirmed report by Algerian TV says four people were killed and 13 people wounded. Earlier, the hostage-takers told ANI news agency in Mauritania that 35 foreigners died.


    That completes our minute-by-minute coverage of the Algerian hostage crisis. Details are still sketchy and the extent of casualties is still unclear. You can keep up to date with the latest developments here.


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