Strike on Islamists 'kills 34 hostages'

Algerian military forces killed 34 hostages and 15 of their Islamist kidnappers in an assault on a remote desert gas field on Thursday, the ANI news agency quoted a spokesman for the kidnappers as saying

"Thirty-four hostages and 15 kidnappers were killed in an (air) raid by the Algerian army," the spokesman said in remarks that have not been independently confirmed.

The source said Westerners were among the dead, but did not elaborate.

Also killed was Abu al-Baraa, who led the Wednesday operation in which 41 foreigners and scores of Algerians were seized.

The spokesman said Algerian aircraft attacked the kidnappers when they tried to "transport some of the hostages in vehicles to a location to the south."

A group calling itself the "Signatories for Blood" claimed responsibility for the brazen attack at the In Amenas gas field near the Libyan border and a member of the outfit said Thursday that Algerian troops had attacked the site.

The Islamists' attack on the gas complex dragged Algiers and several top Western powers with citizens among the hostages into the conflict, taking the spotlight off French and government troops battling the Islamists controlling Mali's north.

The Algeria kidnappings that were in retaliation to the ongoing offensive next door saw two people killed and dozens of others from the United States, Europe and Asia taken hostage. Veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian with ties to Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility.

"We demand the Algerian army pull out from the area to allow negotiations" to end the drama, one of the kidnappers, identified as Abu al-Baraa, told the Al-Jazeera news channel.

He also said Algerian snipers had opened fire at the site where the hostages were held, injuring a Japanese national. Algeria has sent troops to the site, insisting it would not negotiate with the gunmen.

Al-Baraa confirmed there were "around 41" hostages from several countries -- Austria, Norway, France, the United States, Britain, Romania, Colombia, Thailand, the Philippines, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and Germany.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency