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Algerian hostage crisis ends and there will be no safe haven for al Qaeda - US and UK defence ministers

posted 19 Jan 2013, 10:38 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 19 Jan 2013, 10:39 ]

Britain and the U.S. remain committed to defeating terrorism, the countries' defence ministers say in London with the British minister confirming that the hostage crisis has "been brought to an end".

 LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (JANUARY 19, 2013) (UK POOL) -  British and U.S. officials were trying to establish on Saturday (January 19) what exactly happened at the Algerian gas plant.

's state news agency said the Algerian army carried out a dramatic final assault to end a siege by Islamic militants at a desert gas plant, killing 11 al Qaeda-linked gunmen after they took the lives of seven more foreign hostages.

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he had been informed by the Algerians that the hostage situation had been "brought to an end" by the Algerian army assault on the militants.

"On the terrorist attack in Algeria, we remain in close contact with the Algerian government. The Cobra committee met again this morning and the latest information that we have is that the hostage situation has now been brought to an end by a further assault by Algerian forces which has resulted in further loss of life. And we are pressing the Algerians for details on the exact situation and the numbers that have been killed, and, if any, the numbers rescued. The loss of life as a result of these attacks is appalling and unacceptable. We must be clear that it is the terrorists that bear sole responsibility for it. Their actions can never be justified and we remain determined to defeat terrorism and to stand with the Algerian government."

U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta admitted that details were still not clear but stressed that there must be no safe haven for militants.

"Regarding the ongoing hostage situation in Algeria, as secretary Hammond said we are trying to stay informed of the situation. A lot of this information still remains sketchy. We know that lives have been lost and I pledge to continue our close consultation on this issue until the crisis is finally ended.

Just as we cannot accept terrorism attacks against our cities, we cannot accept attacks against our citizens and our interests abroad. Neither can we accept an al Qaeda safe haven anywhere in the world."

Some Western governments expressed frustration at not being informed of the Algerian authorities' plans to storm the complex. Contradictory information flowed all week regarding the number of hostages rescued from the plant.

The exact death toll among the gunmen and the foreign and Algerian workers at the plant near the town of In Amenas continued to remain unclear, although a tally of reports from various sources indicated that several dozen people had been killed.

Earlier in the day British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that while the majority of the British workers were safe "fewer than 10" were "at risk or unaccounted for".

A source close to the crisis said sixteen foreign hostages were freed on Saturday. They included two Americans, two Germans and one Portuguese.

Algerian special forces, the source told Reuters, found 15 burned bodies at the plant.

The Islamists' attack on the gas plant has tested Algeria's relations with the outside world, exposed the vulnerability of multinational oil operations in the Sahara and pushed Islamic radicalism in northern Africa to centre stage.

The crisis at the gas plant marked a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.

The captors said their attack on the Algerian gas plant was a response to the French offensive in Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organised from scratch in the week since France launched its strikes.