'16 foreign hostages freed' in Algeria as Cameron says he wants 'robust response'

Those free include two Americans, two Germans and one Portuguese but British hostages may remain in danger

Sixteen foreign hostages being held by Islamist fighters who attacked a gas plant in the Algerian desert have been freed, according to Reuters news agency.

Quoting a 'source close to the crisis', Reuters said those freed include two Americans, two Germans and one Portuguese.

It is unclear whether any Britons were among the free.

David Cameron last night warned that a diplomatic response would not be enough to tackle the growing terrorist threat in North Africa and that a “robust security response” must be deployed.

About 30 foreign hostages – including 12 Britons – were thought to be dead or missing in the Sahara last night as the siege of a BP gas field in Algeria continued for a fourth day.

Yesterday morning about a dozen Islamist militants were reported to be resisting attempts by Algerian forces to end the siege. According to one report, they were barricaded in a machine room with explosives and an unknown number of hostages and threatening to blow up the industrial part of the site.

Britain has traditionally had a limited presence in Saharan Africa, but Mr Cameron's comments foreshadow a new focus on tackling terrorism in the region. The Prime Minister said Britain faces a "large and existential threat" from organisations such as al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb. British intelligence and military logistics are supporting the French action in Mali, but there are no plans, No 10 says, to deploy ground troops to the country.

The Algerian authorities said around 100 foreigners had been rescued. Two of the missing Britons are reported to have died when Algerian special forces launched an assault on part of the BP facility.

The Algerian forces encircled the raiders yesterday but apparently made no new attack. The scale of the hostage-taking became clear as Algerian sources revealed that a multinational group of about 25 to 30 militants trapped 600 Algerians and 132 foreigners from 10 countries – including 30 Britons – at the gas field in Tiguentourine on Wednesday.

According to the Algerian state news agency last night, "almost 100" of the 132 foreigners and most of the Algerians were freed when the living quarters were stormed on Thursday. This left around 30 foreigners unaccounted for. Two Britons, two Japanese nationals, one Frenchman and eight Algerian civilians are officially reported to have died. US officials last night confirmed one American, Texan Frederick Buttaccio, was killed.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton spoke with the Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and said the "utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life". A State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said not all Americans had been freed. "We have American hostages." Survivors suggested some "hostages" were never actually captured. A French chef who hid under his bed for 40 hours said three Britons were discovered in a roof space when their quarters were freed.

David Cameron – who met the US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta, in London – told the Commons that the number of Britons missing had been "significantly reduced" from the initial estimate of "less than 30".

He declined to give details but the number of British workers unaccounted for was said to be at the "low end" of a scale between 10 and 20. In an emergency Commons statement, Mr Cameron made clear his irritation that Algeria had refused his offer of "technical and intelligence assistance".

A British plane landed in Algiers today to bring back freed hostages. Footage of unnamed British workers said to have escaped the siege was shown on Algerian state television.

"My heart goes out to the guys that are still there and hopefully everyone comes home safe," one man said. Eighteen raiders are reported to have died in Thursday's fighting. One was captured alive, according to the Algerian media.

Algerian security sources said the militants were mostly young men from Libya, Tunisia and Egypt but there was also one French citizen. An Algerian survivor told Le Monde that one of the raiders "spoke English with a perfect British accent".

The surviving Islamists, communicating through a news agency in Mauritania, offered to trade two American hostages for two Islamists jailed in the US. One of them is the "blind sheikh", Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted for organising the 1993 World Trade Centre bomb plot. One expert on the region said that, in the eyes of the Algerian security services, both terrorists and hostages are " people condemned to death".

According to accounts by survivors, including Stephen McFaul from Belfast, the assault began after a group of militants tried to leave the gas field with a number of hostages in a convoy of five trucks. Mr McFaul survived because his vehicle crashed. The other trucks were destroyed by Algerian helicopter gunships – killing captors and captives alike.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003