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Algeria toll at 81 as terror group issues new jihad

THE group that masterminded the storming of the Algerian gas plant warned of more attacks against any country backing France's military intervention in neighbouring Mali.

In a statement, the Masked Brigade said: "We stress to our Muslim brothers the necessity to stay away from all the Western companies and complexes for their own safety, and especially the French ones,"

It came as the death toll from the terrorist siege at the In Amenas natural gas plant in the Sahara climbed to more than 80.

Algerian forces searching the refinery for explosives found dozens more bodies, many so badly disfigured it was unclear whether they were hostages or militants, a security official said.







Bodies

Special forces stormed the plant on Saturday to end the four-day siege, moving in to thwart what the government said was a plot by the Islamist militants to blow up the complex and kill all their hostages with mines laid at the site.

Algeria said after the assault by government forces at least 32 extremists and 23 hostages were killed.

Yesterday Algerian bomb squads found 25 more bodies, said a security official. "These bodies are difficult to identify. They could be the bodies of foreign hostages or Algerians or terrorists."

In addition, a wounded Romanian who had been evacuated died, raising the overall death toll to at least 81.

Three Britons were killed and another three were feared dead.

The dead hostages were also known to include at least one American as well as Filipino and French workers. Nearly two dozen foreigners by some estimates were unaccounted for.

It was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final assault on the complex, which is run by the Algerian state oil company along with BP and Norway's Statoil.

Two private Algerian TV stations and an online news site said security forces scouring the plant found five militants hiding out and learned that three others had fled. That information could not be immediately confirmed.

Authorities said the bloody takeover was carried out on Wednesday by 32 men from six countries, under the command from afar of the one-eyed Algerian bandit Moktar Belmoktar, founder of the Masked Brigade, based in Mali. The attacking force called itself "Those Who Sign in Blood".

The Masked Brigade said the attack was payback against Algeria for allowing overflights of French aircraft headed to Mali and for closing its long border with the country.

Armed with heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades, the militants singled out foreign workers at the plant, killing some of them on the spot and attaching explosive belts to others.

Algeria's tough and uncompromising response to the crisis was typical of its take-no-prisoners approach in confronting terrorists, favouring military action over negotiation. Algerian military forces, backed by attack helicopters, launched two assaults on the plant, the first one on Thursday.

The militants had "decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages", Algerian minister Mohammed Said said.







Execute

Norwegian foreign minister Espen Barth Eide said the terrorists had tried to blow up the plant on Saturday, but managed only to start a small fire. "That's when they started to execute hostages and the special forces intervened," he said.

An audio recording of Algerian security forces speaking with the head of the kidnappers, Abdel Rahman al-Nigiri, on the second day of the drama indicated the hostage-takers were trying to organise a prisoner swap.

"You see our demands are so easy, so easy if you want to negotiate with us," al-Nigiri said in the recording broadcast by Algerian television. "We want the prisoners you have, the comrades who were arrested and imprisoned 15 years ago. We want 100 of them."

hnews@herald.ie