Algeria hostage crisis: Death toll climbs to 81

The mangled wreckage of a vehicle near the In Amenas gas plant
The mangled wreckage of a vehicle near the In Amenas gas plant
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The death toll from the terrorist siege in Algeria has risen to 81 after more bodies were found at the gas plant in the Sahara.

• Two ‘Scots’ thought to be among dead

• Authorities having trouble identifying latest bodies found.

Two Scots or people with Scottish connections are among those believed to have been killed.

Algerian special forces stormed the In Amenas gas facility on Saturday to end the four-day hostage crisis, moving in to thwart what government officials said was a plot by the Islamic extremists to blow up the complex and kill all their captives with mines sown throughout the site.

Three Britons are confirmed dead and three more are believed to have died.

Prime Minister David Cameron was due to update MPs on the situation today.

Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill said eight Scots survivors of the hostage crisis were now “back safe and sound” with their families, but two Scots or people with immeduiate Scottish connections were feared to have died.

Explosives search

According to the Algerian government, the death toll includes 32 Islamist militants, 23 hostages, including three confirmed to be British, six from the Philippines, one each from the US, Romania and France.

A further 25 bodies were found by Algerian troops searching the refinery for explosives, but reports said the bodies were so badly disfigured it was not clear whether they were hostages or terrorists,

One Romanian hostage who had been evacuated died of his wounds, bringing the death toll to 81. Two Algerian TV stations and an online news site said security forces scouring the plant found five militants hiding out and learned that three others had fled.

In a statement, the Masked Brigade, the group that claimed to have masterminded the takeover of the gas plant, warned of more such attacks against any country backing France’s military intervention in neighboring Mali, where the French are trying to stop an advance by Islamic extremists.

“We stress to our Muslim brothers the necessity to stay away from all the Western companies and complexes for their own safety, and especially the French ones,” the statement said.

Authorities said the raid last Wednesday was carried out by 32 men from six countries, under the command from afar of the Algerian Moktar Belmoktar, founder of the Masked Brigade, based in Mali. The attacking force called itself “Those Who Sign in Blood”.

Armed with heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades, the militants singled out foreign workers at the plant, killing some of them on the spot and reportedly attaching explosive belts to others.

Attack for al-Qaida

The Masked Brigade said the attack was payback against Algeria for allowing over-flights of French aircraft headed to Mali and for closing its long border with Mali. In an earlier communication, the Brigade claimed to have carried out the attack in the name of al-Qaida.

David Cameron warned there could be a decades-long battle against Islamist terrorism in north Africa.

He said: “What we face is an extremist, Islamist, al-Qaida-linked terrorist group. Just as we had to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in north Africa.”

He said that there were clear similarities with the terrorist threat based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, although it was on a different scale.

“This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.”