Reuters – Al Qaeda-linked militants who attacked a gas field in Algeria on Wednesday have demanded an end to French military operations against Islamists in northern Mali in return for the safety of dozens of hostages, Mauritania’s ANI news agency reported.
The statement sent to ANI by the group also said it was holding some 40 hostages. A spokesman for a group under the command of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Saharan jihadist and smuggling kingping, had earlier said it was behind the hostage-taking.
With France mounting military operations against Islamists in Mali, it is “too much of a coincidence” that Al Qaeda-linked militants have killed two people and kidnapped 40 others at an oil facility in neighbouring Algeria, according to The Telegraph’s Diplomatic Correspondent.
Islamist militants attacked a gas production field in southern Algeria on Wednesday, kidnapping at least nine foreigners and killing two people during a dawn raid, local and company officials said.
The raid, claimed by an al-Qaeda affiliate, came after Islamists had vowed to retaliate for France’s military intervention in Mali, where its forces have been in action against al Qaeda-linked militants since last week.
APS, the Algerian press agency, reported that two Britons were among the dead, though the Foreign Office was not yet able to confirm those reports. Other local sources said a French national was killed in the attack. An Irish national from Northern Ireland is believed to be among those held.
Citing sources on the ground, Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Algérie, the national newspaper, said it had unconfirmed reports that two British security agents and a “gendarme” had been killed.
The attack raised fears that the French action could prompt further Islamist revenge attacks on Western targets in Africa, where al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operates across borders in the Sahara desert, and in Europe.