Canadian Islamists helped plan Algeria attack

ALGIERS - Two Canadians were among the extremists who attacked an Algerian gas plant and one of them played a key role in the hostage-taking that left scores dead, that country's Prime Minister said Monday.

Hostages are seen with their hands in the air at the In Amenas gas facility in this still image taken from video footage taken last week. (Reuters photo)

Abdelmalek Sellal told reporters that a man believed to have been Canadian was among the 32 Islamists who seized a gas plant in the north African country.

"A Canadian was among the militants," Sellal said. "He was coordinating the attack."

He offered little information about the purported Canadian, not revealing if he was killed or was among the three attackers who survived. He identified the man by a single name: Shadad, which also could be spelt as Sheddad or Chedad.

The specific role played by this man remains unclear. In the same news conference Mr. Sellal spoke also of a terrorist "leader" who was killed and gave the name of known Algerian jihadi Mohamed el-Amine Bencheneb.

The Prime Minister also mentioned a second Canadian among the attacking group, confirming earlier reports.

Algeria offered a grim toll in the attack, saying that 38 hostages and 29 militants died in four days of mayhem.

The dead hostages included seven Japanese workers and three energy workers each from the US and Britain.

Three of the attackers were captured and five foreign workers remain unaccounted for, the prime minister told reporters at a news conference in Algiers, the capital.

Seven other Americans survived the attack. In total, roughly 800 workers were freed or escaped.

No Thais were involved in the crisis, after initial fears Thai oilfield workers had been among the workers taken hostage.

The militants had said during the standoff that their band included people from Canada, and hostages who had escaped recalled hearing at least one of the militants speaking English with a North American accent.

The Canadian government in Ottawa said that it was continuing to probe reports Canadians were among the hostage-takers in the bloody four-day siege

The news marked the latest revelations about the deadly crisis in remote eastern Algeria, which remained murky to the outside world as Algerian forces and Islamic extremists clashed late last week.

Even after the ordeal ended Saturday, there were conflicting reports over the number of the dead and what occurred inside the In Amenas natural gas complex as the attack unfolded.

The Algerian prime minister told a news conference that the attack had been planned for two months and was carried out by a group that came from northern Mali - currently a stronghold of Islamist forces.

Sellal said two Canadians apparently planned and led the attacks on the hostages. Eleven other militants were originally from Tunisia, three from Algeria, and others were from Egypt, Mali and elsewhere in the region, the official Algeria Press Service reported.

The prime minister said the heavily armed militants came from Mali carrying a great deal of explosives and mined the facility. They had prepared the attack for two months.

Sellal said 29 of the hostage takers were "eliminated" and three of them captured, the Algeria Press Service reported.

Sellal also said one of the attackers was a former driver at the natural gas complex, according to the Associated Press. The detail may shed new light on how an attack that baffled outside intelligence and security analysts was accomplished.

The number of hostages killed has raised questions about how Algeria handled the crisis, especially in light of reports that hostages were slain by gunfire from an Algerian military helicopter.

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Writer: BangkokPost.com with Agency reports