Algeria siege: Canada examines hostage claims

Still from video released by Sahara Media on 21 Jan 2013 of Mokhtar Belmokhtar
Image caption Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar has claimed responsibility for the attack

Canada's foreign minister has said he is trying to verify whether two Canadians were among the Islamists involved in the Algerian siege.

Algeria's prime minister said the hostage raid at a remote desert gas plant was co-ordinated by a Canadian.

The hostage crisis left 37 foreigners of eight nationalities and one Algerian worker dead.

PM Abdelmalek Sellal said the Canadian organising the attack, named only as Chedad, was among 29 militants killed.

"A Canadian was among the militants. He was co-ordinating the attack," Mr Sellal said. Chedad is a a surname found among Arabs in the region.

Video claim

In Ottawa, Canada's foreign affairs department said it was seeking information about the reports.

Foreign Minister John Baird told CTV on Monday: "What we are doing, our embassy in Algiers and our team in Ottawa, are working to try to verify these information and get the names of these alleged Canadians. But we can't report anything official at this time."

While the number of Canadians known to have been involved in radical activity is small, they include Ahmed Said Khadr, a close associate of Osama Bin Laden, and his son Omar, who pleaded guilty to killing a US soldier in Afghanistan and conspiring with al-Qaeda.

In April 2012, the head of Canada's spy agency said as many as 60 Canadians had travelled - or attempted to travel - to Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to join al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and engage in terror-related activities.

The attack on the gas facility at In Amenas has been claimed by Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar in a video distributed online.

The militant leader recently fell out with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which originated in Algeria but now operates throughout the Sahara and Sahel regions.

The four-day siege ended at the weekend when Algerian troops recaptured the site.

Three of the 29 militants who overran the facility near the desert town of In Amenas were taken alive.

Five hostages - believed to include Japanese nationals - are still unaccounted for.

Americans, Britons and Japanese are among the dead, while nationals from France, Norway, Malaysia, the Philippines and Romania are listed as dead or missing.

Mr Sellal said the kidnappers had crossed into the country from northern Mali, and that they were from Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Niger, Canada and Mauritania.

The militants said they had taken hostages in retaliation for French intervention against Islamists in Mali earlier this month.

However Mr Sellal said the attack on the gas plant had been planned for more than two months.

The crisis began on Wednesday when militants attacked two buses carrying foreign workers to the remote site in eastern Algeria. A Briton and an Algerian died in the initial raid.

The militants then took expatriates hostage at the complex, which was quickly surrounded by the Algerian army.

Algerian state media said later that 685 Algerian workers at the plant had escaped, with reports that militants told them they were only targeting non-Muslims.

  1. Bus attack: 05:00 local time 16 January: Heavily armed gunmen attack two buses carrying gas field workers towards In Amenas airfield. A Briton and an Algerian die in the fighting.
  2. Hostages taken: The militants drive to the installation at Tigantourine and take Algerian and foreign workers hostage in the living area and the main gas facility at the complex.
  3. Army surround complex: Security forces and the Algerian army surround the hostage-takers. Western leaders, including the UK's David Cameron, urge Algeria to consult them before taking action.
  4. Army attacks: 12:00 (13:00 GMT) 17 January: Algerian forces attack as militants try to move some of their captives from the facility. Reports say some hostages escape, but others are killed.
  5. Final assault: The Algerians ended the raid on 19 January, killing the last 11 captors after they had killed seven hostages, state media reported. At least 48 hostages and 32 militants in total are now believed to have died.

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