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30 hostages killed? Casualty counts vary in Algerian crisis

30 hostages were killed, including at least seven foreigners, one source told a Reuters reporter. Other sources offer widely varying numbers of hostages taken, escaped, and killed.

Image

This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara. 30 hostages may have been killed during an attempt to free a larger group. The group claiming responsibility, called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade, said Wednesday it had captured 41 foreigners, including seven Americans.

SITE Intel Group / AP

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Algerian forces stormed a desert gas complex to free hundreds of hostages but 30, including several Westerners, were killed in the assault along with at least 11 of their Islamist captors, an Algerian security source told Reuters.

Western leaders whose compatriots were being held did little to disguise their irritation at being kept in the dark by Algeria before the raid - and over its bloody outcome. French, British and Japanese staff were among the dead, the source said.

An Irish engineer who survived said he saw four jeeps full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops whose commanders said they moved in about 30 hours after the siege began because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.

And while a crisis has ended that posed a serious dilemma for Paris and its allies as French troops attacked the hostage-takers' al Qaeda allies in neighbouring Mali, it left question marks over the ability of OPEC-member Algeria to protect vital energy resources and strained its relations with Western powers.

Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed, the source told Reuters. Eight dead hostages were Algerian. The nationalities of the rest, as well as of perhaps dozens more who escaped, were unclear. Some 600 local Algerian workers, less well guarded, survived.

Fourteen Japanese were among those still unaccounted for by the early hours of Friday, their Japanese employer said.

Americans, Norwegians, Romanians and an Austrian have also been mentioned by their governments as having been captured by the militants who called themselves the "Battalion of Blood" and had demanded France end its week-old offensive in Mali.

Underlining the view of African and Western leaders that they face a multinational Islamist insurgency across the Sahara - a conflict that prompted France to send hundreds of troops to Mali last week - the official source said only two of the 11 dead militants were Algerian, including the squad's leader.

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