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In Algeria: Some Hostages May Have Escaped

Jan 17, 2013
Originally published on January 17, 2013 4:57 pm

Events are happening quickly at the gas facility in eastern Algeria where Islamist militants seized a large group of hostages — perhaps as many as 41 of them foreigners who apparently include some Americans — on Wednesday.

News organizations are moving lots of "alerts," including word that some hostages may have been killed. Some of what's being reported by one outlet conflicts with what others are saying. We're focusing on what's coming from those with reporters with sources who should have knowledge of the situation. Here are some of the latest reports. We'll keep updating as the day continues:

Update at 4:50 p.m. ET More Details On Fatalities

The Associated Press and other media report that "four captives, two Britons and two Filipinos, had died." They quoted an Algerian state television report. But the militants say at least 35 hostages were killed. We have no way of independently verifying either claim. As Eleanor Beardsley in Paris reports for All Things Considered:

"The news all day was coming from the Algerian media and Islamists websites, but was difficult to confirm with other sources because of the remote location of the facility. There were no Western journalists flocking to the site because Algeria is a very closed country and the government wasn't giving out any entry visas. Most French stations were getting information and reports from phone calls with local journalists hundreds of miles away in the capital of Algiers."

Update at 3 p.m. ET. It's Over?

Sky News reports that "Algerian state news agency says hostage situation is now over." But we should remind everyone: There are many reports and lots of conflicting information. We're aiming to sift through it all as best we can.

As the BBC adds, "the number of deaths and injuries is unknown." There are multiple reports that during a Algerian military operation aimed at freeing the hostages, some of the captives as well as some of the militants were killed.

Update at 1:20 p.m. ET. U.S. Drone Flying Over Scene:

An American surveillance drone is flying over the area where the hostages are being held, a source with knowledge of the situation tells NPR's Tom Bowman. Reuters reported that information earlier.

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. Militants Claim Many Hostages Died From Military Fire:

With an Algerian military operation apparently underway, there's word from The Associated Press that the militants claim more than 30 hostages were killed by "military helicopter strafing." But that number wouldn't seem to make sense if earlier reports about many hostages escaping are correct. As we've been saying, there are many reports and lots of conflicting information. We're aiming to sift through it all as best we can.

Update at 10:30 a.m ET. Military Launches Operation:

-- Algeria's state news agency says a military operation to free the hostages is under way, that at least four were freed, but that there have been a number of "victims," the BBC writes.

-- Reuters says "25 hostages escaped and six were killed" when Algerian forces moved in.

Again, there are many reports and lots of conflicting information. We're aiming to sift through it all as best we can.

7:23 a.m. ET:

-- Algerian troops have surrounded the facility. (BBC News)

-- "Algerian official: 20 foreign hostages, including Americans, escape from their captors." (The Associated Press)

-- "Algerian news reports said that 30 Algerian hostages and 15 of the foreigners had been able to escape, but there was no immediate independent confirmation of that account." (The New York Times)

-- "Dozens of Algerian hostages have escaped a gas facility in southeast Algeria, where Islamist militants continue to hold around 100 people, including 41 foreign nationals." (France 24)

-- "Islamist militants who seized Westerners at an Algerian gas plant are demanding a safe passage to nearby Libya, authorities said, as fallout from the French offensive in Mali reverberates globally." (CNN)

-- The U.S. is talking with Algerian officials about what can be done to resolve the situation, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says. (AP)

-- "The group claiming responsibility — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — said the attack Wednesday was in revenge for Algeria's support of France's military operation against al-Qaida-linked rebels in neighboring Mali." (CBS News)

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