The bloody hostage crisis in Algeria that gripped the world ended in a devastating number of deaths, as 23 hostages from different countries, including at least one American, and 32 al-Qaida-linked militants were killed in the conflict at a gas field facility.
Much of the world reacted with anger and shock at the actions of the militants, who seemed intent on killing foreign nationals when it became clear that the insurgents wouldn’t get out alive. All of the militants were killed, and 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreign nationals were freed, according to the Algerian interior ministry.
There is a fear that the number of dead hostages will rise, as Algerian forces searching the site — which had been booby-trapped — were finding an undisclosed number of severely disfigured bodies that couldn’t be immediately identified.
The deaths include as many as five Norwegians and as many as six Britons and citizens of Colombia, France, Japan and Malaysia.
The Algerian El Watan newspaper quoted Algerian officials as saying the militants, who had been demanding that France halt its military operation against Islamists in neighboring Mali, started executing the remaining hostages after they lost hope of leaving the gas complex with their captives. The army moved in after the foreigners were killed, reports said.
While combing the plant and defusing the bombs, Algerian troops recovered a cache of weapons, including machine guns, rifles, shotguns, missiles, grenades and explosive belts.
There undoubtedly will be many questions about Algeria’s decision to go in blasting away rather than trying harder to negotiate, but French President Francois Hollande gave his backing to Algeria’s tactics, saying they were “the most adapted response to the crisis.”
“There could be no negotiations” with terrorists, he said in the central French city of Tulle.
Hollande said the hostages were “shamefully murdered,” and the insurgent actions provided further justification for France’s decisions in Mali.
“If there was any need to justify our action against terrorism, we would have here, again, an additional argument,” he said.
President Obama called the attack “another reminder of the threat posed by al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups in north Africa,” and said Washington would work “closely with all of our partners to combat the scourge of terrorism” in the region. “The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms,” Obama said. “We have been in constant contact with Algerian officials and stand ready to provide whatever assistance they need in the aftermath of this attack.”
In the UK, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “One British citizen has already been killed in this brutal attack and we now fear the worst for the lives of five others.
“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. It is our priority now to get people home as quickly as possible and to look after the survivors.”
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, said he had received “grave information’’ about Japanese hostages. “The Algerian government provided us with sombre information about the safety of Japanese citizens,’’ he said.