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Algeria prisoner swap shows how Al Qaeda won't leave US alone

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“It reminds me of Saddam Hussein saying he’d be happy to leave Kuwait [which he occupied in 1990] as soon as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was settled and the Palestinians had a state,” says Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Not gonna happen, and you know it. But that’s not the point.”

There was still little clarity Friday afternoon about how many hostages remain in the hands of the Islamist militants, and how many of them are Americans. At least one American was killed in the assault, according to the Associated Press. Late Friday, the State Department confirmed the death of US citizen Frederick Buttaccio, according to a statement from Ms. Nuland.

The Algerian state news agency reported Friday that about 100 of more than 130 foreign hostages had been freed, while it claimed that more than 570 Algerians were also freed in the Algerian military’s assault, which began Thursday on the Ain Amenas gas facility in southern Algeria. Other reports claimed that more than 60 hostages remain in the assailants’ control.

But some of the freed Algerians reported that the military assault, which was apparently launched in an effort to prevent the Islamists from fleeing the facility with hostages, resulted in dozens of deaths among the hostages and their captors.

The US has been wary of any international effort to oust the Islamist rebels looking like the West fighting Muslims to take back former colonial lands. The AQIM group that carried out the Algeria hostage taking said it was in retaliation for the French operation in Mali.

But Secretary Clinton’s statement Friday suggests that the US, presented with an international terrorist act and significant loss of life involving many nationalities including at least one American, is shedding some of its reticence.

“It is absolutely essential that we broaden and deepen our counterterror cooperation going forward with Algeria and all counterterror efforts in the region,” Clinton said. Citing her conversations with Algerian officials in recent days, she said, “I made clear that we stand ready to further enhance counterterror support that we have already supplied.”

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