Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb said it had carried out Wednesday’s raid on the
In Amenas facility in Algeria, Mauritania’s ANI news agency reported.

The Algerian interior ministry said: “A terrorist group, heavily armed
and using three vehicles, launched an attack this Wednesday at 5 am against
a Sonatrach base in Tigantourine, near In Amenas, about 60 miles from the
Algerian and Libyan border.”

The gas field is operated by a joint venture including BP, Norwegian oil firm
Statoil and Algerian state company Sonatrach.

Algeria’s official APS news agency said that one security guard had been
killed and seven people were injured including two foreigners.

Five Japanese nationals working for the Japanese engineering firm JCG Corp
were kidnapped as well as a French national, local officials said. An
Irishman was also seized, the Irish government said, while a diplomatic
source said an American had been kidnapped.

Also kidnapped was a Norwegian gas worker, the newspaper Bergens Tidende said,
quoting the man’s wife.

“I received a phone call from my husband this morning and he said he was
kidnapped,” the woman said. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry could not
confirm the report.

The Algerian interior ministry said the attack was directed at bus taking gas
field workers to an airport. The number of hostages remained unclear.

The foreigners were taken from In Amenas in the morning. Algerian troops had
mounted an operation to rescue the hostages and had also surrounded the
workers’ camp at Tiguentourine, a local source said. A French source said
that the raiders had come from Libya.

Algeria has allowed France to use its air space during its military
intervention against al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels in Mali, although
officials have yet to make a link between Wednesday’s attack and the
conflict in Algeria’s southern neighbor.

“The government stands ready to use all the resources available to us to
ensure that our citizen is released as soon as possible,” said Ireland’s
foreign minister Eamon Gilmore, also deputy prime minister.

BP this morning confirmed it had experienced a “security incident” at its In
Amenas gas field in the eastern central region of Algeria, that it had
informed UK authorities and was “setting up a helpline for relatives”.

“A terrorist incident is underway,” said a Foreign Office spokesman. The
Elysée Palace declined to comment.

There were conflicting reports over the number and nationality of causalities
and hostages.

The latest report from Algeria’s
national news agency, APS, says two people were killed and six wounded in
the attack.

An al Qaeda-linked group operating in the Sahara has claimed responsibility
for the attack, saying it came from Mali, where France has launched a
military operation against Islamists in the north of the country and today
launched its first ground offensive.

ANI, which has regular direct contact with Islamists, said that fighters under
the command of Mokhtar Belmokhtar were holding the foreigners seized from
the gas field.

“We are members of al-Qaeda
and we come from the north of Mali,” one fighter told AFP.

Belmokhtar for years commanded al-Qaeda fighters in the Sahara before setting
up his own armed Islamist group late last year after an apparent fallout
with other militant leaders.

But in a video released in December, Belmokhtar warned his group would respond
to all those who “plan or participate in the war in northern Mali”.

However, DNA said that sources “on the ground” said the attackers had crossed
over from neighbouring Libya and had “Libyan accents”.

The hostages were taken from In Amenas at around 2am this morning.

Algerian troops have mounted an operation to rescue the hostages and have
surrounded the workers’ camp at Tiguentourine, a local source said.

Algeria has allowed France to use its air space during its military
intervention, although officials have yet to make a link between Wednesday’s
attack and the conflict in Algeria’s southern neighbour.

Islamist militants are currently holding eight French nationals hostage in
northern and western Africa. Al-Shabab militants in Somalia today said they
will execute a French intelligence agent they claim to be holding in
retaliation for a botched French operation to free him.

The French government, however, says it believes Denis Allex was killed by his
captors during Friday’s raid in which two French commandos died.

Al-Shabaab have denied the French account by have provided no proof that he is
still alive.

President François Hollande of France said this morning: “Today, you can
imagine that I think about the predicament of the hostages at every moment.

“But also want to state France’s position, namely that it is by being firm,
including by intervening as we are in Mali, that we will make hostage takers
give in.” The hostage takings took place as French troops were due to engage
in their first major ground combat with Islamist rebels in Mali “within
hours” after heading for Diabaly, captured by rebels on Monday.

A convoy of about 30 armoured vehicles set out from Bamako last night for the
town, 220 miles to the north. The first Nigerian units of an African force
are due to arrive today.

One Malian security source told AFP fighting had already started.

“French special forces are currently are engaged in close combat with the
Islamists. The Malian army is also there,” he told AFP.

French fighter jets, meanwhile, struck the headquarters of the Islamic police
in Niafunke, a small town on the Niger river near the ancient caravan route
of Timbuktu, residents said.

French army chief Edouard Guillaud said strikes were being hampered because
militants were using the civilian population as a shield.

“We categorically refuse to make the civilian population take a risk.

If in doubt, we will not shoot,” he said.

French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian admitted that Malian forces around
Diabaly have been struggling to combat well-armed rebels who melt into the
local population.

The central town of Konna had not been recaptured by government forces, he
said, contradicting earlier reports.

Two reported killed in kidnapping at BP gas field in Algeria – Telegraph.co.uk
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