January 18, 2013

Algerian forces free 650 hostages from militants

Around 650 hostages detained by an armed group at a gas field in Algeria have been freed, the official APS news agency reported on Friday.

The hostages were kept at the gas facility in Illizi province.

Those freed include 570 Algerians and more than half of the 132 detained foreigners, Xinhua cited the report as saying.

A source said the Army's special forces are still looking for a peaceful solution to free the rest of the hostages, before having to eradicate the militants who have taken refuge in a refinery at the gas facility.

Algerian Army helicopters on Thursday fired at the facility, leaving many kidnappers dead, media reports said.

The British Petroleum (BP) natural gas field is in Ain Amenas in Illizi province, around 60 km from the Libyan border.

Mauritania's ANI news agency said a spokesman for the kidnappers identified themselves as the "Battalion of Blood".

The militants earlier said they were holding 41 foreign nationals, including Americans, French, British, Norwegian and Japanese workers.

Algerian authorities earlier said the kidnappers were Algerians and operating under orders from Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former commander of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

A statement purported to be from the hostage-takers called for an end to the French military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighbouring Mali.

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