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Hostage situation escalates in Algeria

Hostage situation escalates in Algeria
Captives being held by Islamist militants at a gas plant in Algeria have been killed after Algerian forces opened fire on the site, it has been reported.

Captives being held by Islamist militants at a gas plant in Algeria have been killed after Algerian forces opened fire on the site, it has been reported.

Some 41 hostages were reported to being held by the Islamist group, including a number of Scots as well as other British, French, US, Japanese and Norwegian nationals at the plant, part run by BP.

However, today Mauritania’s ANI news agency reported that a number of the captives and captors had been killed when government forces fired from helicopters while the kidnappers were trying to move some of their prisoners.

Reuters reported a local source saying six hostages and eight kidnappers had been killed.

Earlier militants claimed 34 hostages and 15 of the kidnappers had been killed.

An Algerian security source said 25 hostages had escaped but seven were still being held captive – one Briton, two Americans, three Belgians and one Japanese.

It later emerged two Scots could have been among four hostages freed this afternoon.

First Minister Alex Salmond said earlier today that a number of Scottish nationals – thought to be no more than five – were among a group of hostages seized by militants at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria.

BP, which is a 46% owner in a joint venture which runs the site, said a number of BP staff were among those held, but that it would not release any details of how many there were or their nationalities in order not to risk their safety.

It said: “The situation remains unclear and we continue to seek updates from the authorities.

“As a precautionary measure, staged plans are underway to bring a group of non-essential workers out of Algeria>”

Statoil, which is also in the joint venture, alongside state firm Sonatrach, said yesterday it had 12 employees being held hostage.

According to Al Arabiya Algeria’s Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said one Briton and an Algerian were killed yesterday during the dawn raid on the facility part-operated by BP.

The UK Foreign Office has also confirmed the death of one Briton.

Another six were wounded: another Briton, a Norwegian and a Scot, as well as an Algerian security agent and two policemen, said Al Arabiya.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “We’re working closely with BP whose staff are involved and I’ve just spoken to the senior management of BP.

“We’re making sure between us, BP are doing a good job of this, that the families, that the loved ones of those who may be caught up in this are kept informed and kept up to date with any information that we’re able to give them.”

It has been reported that the attack was in retaliation for a French military intervention against al Qaida-backed rebels in neighbouring Mali.

Late afternoon it has been reported that a Belfast man, Stephen McFaul, 36, who was held hostage at the facility had been freed and has spoken with his wife.

The In Amenas gas field and its facilities are operated by a joint venture of the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach, BP and Statoil.

A Japanese contractor, JGC, had staff working on the field and said some of its staff were seized.

The firm said: “We are attempting to confirm the facts of the situation at the moment, and will continue to communicate with authorities, asking them to protect the lives of our staff.”

This afternoon BP group chief executive Bob Dudley said: “Supporting these families is our priority and we are doing all we can to help during this sad and uncertain time.

“We are in contact with the UK and Algerian Governments and will provide updates as soon as further confirmed information is available.”

Earlier this month Petrofac won a services contract on the field, as well as the In Salah gas field, working for the joint venture partners.

However, the contract has yet to start. A spokesman for Petrofac said all its Algeria-based staff were safe and accounted for.

BP has been operating in Algeria since the mid-1950s and describes itself as the largest foreign investor in the country.

As well as being a partner with Sonatrach and Statoil on the In Amenas project, it is also a partner with the pair on the In Salah project. Both supply gas to the domestic and European markets.

In addition, BP is partner to Sonatrach in the Bourarhat Sud block, located to the South West of In Amenas.

In September 2010, the Algerian Government approved an extension to the second prospecting period for this block.

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