The In Amenas gas field in Algeria in an October 2012 handout image courtesy of DigitalGlobeThe remote desert facility is close to the Libyan border and 1,300km south-east of Algiers

The hostage crisis at a gas facility in the Algerian desert where Islamist militants were holding foreign hostages has yet to be resolved, the UK says.

The Foreign Office said the “terrorist incident” near In Amenas was “ongoing”.

Algerian state media said four hostages and several militants were killed when troops backed by helicopters attempted to free them on Thursday afternoon.

The militants had claimed to be holding 41 foreigners. At least four were freed but the fate of many others is unknown.

Algeria has yet to give precise casualty figures from the rescue attempt.

David Cameron

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David Cameron: “It is a fluid situation but we should be prepared for the possibility of further bad news”

UK government sources said they were trying to establish the fate of as many as 20 British people and were bracing themselves for multiple casualties.

Japanese officials were meanwhile cited as saying by the Kyodo news agency that at least 14 Japanese nationals were still missing. At least three managed to escape.

Both countries have expressed concerns about the actions of the Algerian authorities, who told Norway’s prime minister that “they felt they had no choice but to go in”.

Norwegian, US, French and Irish citizens were also among those held.

Different locations

On Friday morning, the UK Foreign Office said it believed the incident was ongoing, but the picture is confusing, reports BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera.

The indications on Thursday night were that the military element of the operation had concluded, and that it had moved to the search phase.

But there are now some unconfirmed reports that a small group of militants and hostages remain, possibly near the gas compressor at the main gas plant, our correspondent adds.

It had always been reported that hostages were being held at different locations.

The militants said they had seized the foreigners in retaliation for France’s military intervention in Mali, where its forces have been battling Islamists since last week.

Algerian Communications Minister Mohand Said Oubelaid said the militants were intent on “destabilising Algeria, embroiling it in the Mali conflict and damaging its natural gas infrastructure.”

Algerian officials said the group was operating under orders from Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a senior commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) until late last year.

The In Amenas gas field is operated by the Algerian state oil company, Sonatrach, along with the British oil company BP and Norway’s Statoil.

It is situated at Tigantourine, about 40km (25 miles) south-west of the town of In Amenas and 1,300km (800 miles) south-east of Algiers.


The Foreign Office said the "terrorist incident" near In Amenas was "ongoing". – BBC News
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