Algeria hostages: UK 'working hard' to find Britons

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Media captionWilliam Hague: "Our focus is on getting British nationals who have survived this ordeal back to the UK"

UK officials are "working hard" to locate Britons missing or feared dead after the Algeria kidnap crisis, says Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Five Britons and one UK resident are feared dead or unaccounted for. One Briton has already been confirmed dead.

An unknown number of Britons have survived. Some returned to the UK overnight, the Foreign Office said.

A raid by Algerian troops ended a four-day siege at the In Amenas gas facility on Saturday.

Algerian authorities say a total of 23 hostages and 32 terrorists have died.

The Algerian Interior Ministry also said that 107 foreign workers and 685 local employees had been released, following the end of the hostage-taking by Islamist militants at the Western-run In Amenas gas facility, in the Sahara desert.

Family support

On Saturday evening, Mr Hague said: "Our priority now is to work out exactly what has happened to every British national who might have been caught up in this terrible situation.

"On the basis of all the information we have... we believe that there are five British nationals and one UK resident who are either deceased or unaccounted for, in addition to the one fatality that we had already confirmed."

The one confirmed British death reportedly occurred on Wednesday when the crisis began, as militants attacked two buses carrying foreign workers to the remote site in south-eastern Algeria.

The militants then took Algerians and foreign workers hostage at the complex, which was quickly surrounded by the Algerian army.

A statement from the kidnappers said the assault on the gas plant was launched in retaliation for French intervention against Islamist groups in neighbouring Mali.

Mr Hague added: "Now obviously we're working hard to get definitive information about each individual.

Image caption British, Norwegian and Japanese companies are involved with the site

"We're in touch with all of the families concerned and we're working closely with BP and with police forces across the country to give those families the support they need at this very difficult time."

Prime Minister David Cameron said that he had been told in a phone call from his Algerian counterpart that the hostage crisis was over.

"There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way," he said.

"Our determination is stronger than ever to work with allies right around the world to root out and defeat this terrorist scourge and those who encourage it."

Offers of help

It is not yet clear how many British hostages were involved, but the Scottish government confirmed that eight Scots were "safe and secure" following the crisis.

First Minister Alex Salmond said: "We now face the difficult news that there are Scots or individuals with strong Scottish connections among those who are believed to have been killed or remain unaccounted for."

The Foreign Office would not give any details of the British nationals who returned overnight - but said the Foreign Secretary would give an update on the situation later this morning.

The In Amenas gas field is situated at Tigantourine, about 40km (25 miles) south-west of the town of In Amenas and 1,300km (800 miles) south-east of Algiers.

The plant is jointly run by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state-owned oil company.

BP said it had 18 employees on the site at the time of the attack. Chief executive Bob Dudley said the company was "unable to confirm the location or situation" of four employees and had "grave fears" there may have been fatalities.

One Algerian worker, who gave his name only as Chabane, told the Associated Press that at one point the militants caught a man he described as a Briton.

"They threatened him until he called out in English to his friends, telling them, 'Come out, come out, they're not going to kill you. They're looking for the Americans'," Chabane told AP.

"A few minutes later, they blew him away," he said. Chabane's account could not be independently confirmed.

There were initial concerns from British and other government when they were not notified in advance of the Algerian assault on the plan on Thursday, despite offering assistance to the authorities.

Asked whether he felt regret that Algeria had refused British offers of help, Mr Hague said: "They are a sovereign country. That is up to them."

While it was "right for this country to offer our help", he said he did not want to "enter into criticism or judgement because there will be a lot to be learnt yet about this operation".

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