Jan 20, 2013 / 6:30 am
Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found "numerous" new bodies on Sunday as they searched for explosive traps left behind by the attackers, a security official said, a day after a bloody raid ended the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the bodies were badly disfigured and difficult to identify.
"The bodies could be either Algerian or foreign hostages," he said.
Algerian special forces stormed the natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end the standoff, and the government said all 32 militants were killed. Earlier Sunday, Algeria's chief government spokesman said he feared the toll of hostages, which stood at 23 on Saturday, would rise as the special forces teams finished their search.
He said the militants came from six countries and were armed to cause maximum destruction. Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway's Statoil, said the entire refinery had been mined.
"They had decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages," said Communications Minister Mohamed Said, speaking on a state radio interview.
The American government had warned that there were credible threats of more kidnapping attempts on Westerners.
With few details emerging from the remote site in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed Saturday, seven, was how many the militants had said that morning they still had.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday that three Britons were killed and another three are believed dead, along with a foreigner who was living in Britain. He said that 22 Britons who survived the ordeal are now back in Britain.
"Now, of course, people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack," Cameron said.
In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a statement condemning, "the deplorable and cowardly attacks by terrorists in Ain Amenas, Algeria."
Baird said it's believed there were no Canadians or dual nationals are among the hostages, and that one permanent resident of Canada who was reported to be onsite has left Algeria and is safe.
The militants, who came from a Mali-based al-Qaida splinter group run by an Algerian, attacked the plant Wednesday morning. Armed with heavy machine-guns and rocket launchers in four-wheel drive vehicles, they fell on a pair of buses taking foreign workers to the airport. The buses' military escort drove off the attackers in a blaze of gunfire that sent bullets zinging over the heads of crouching workers. A Briton and an Algerian, probably a security guard, were killed.
The militants then turned to the vast gas complex, divided between the workers' living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages, the Algerian government said. The gas flowing to the site was cut off.
The accounts of hostages who escaped the standoff showed they faced dangers from both the kidnappers and the military. The militants focused on the foreign workers from the outset, largely leaving alone the hundreds of Algerian workers who were briefly held hostage before being released or escaping.
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