Algeria siege dead and survivors flown back to Japan

Officers bow their heads as they place flower bouquets on coffins of Algerian hostage crisis victims
Image caption The plane arrived in Japan on Friday morning

A plane carrying the bodies of nine of the 10 Japanese victims of the Algerian hostage crisis has landed in Japan's capital, Tokyo.

Seven survivors were also on the government-chartered plane.

Japan suffered the highest confirmed number of deaths from the four-day siege at the In Amenas gas facility.

One of the victims has been confirmed as Tadanori Aratani, a senior adviser and former vice-president of the engineering firm, JGC Corp.

Vice-Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi, who is in Algeria, is expected to return soon with the body of the last Japanese victim, the Kyodo news agency reports.

Also on Friday, Norwegian company Statoil confirmed that three of its workers missing since the siege had died. Another two are still unaccounted for.

The Algerian government has said it believes 37 foreign hostages from eight countries and one Algerian worker were killed.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said 29 of the militants who overran the facility had also died and that three had been captured alive. Five hostages are still unaccounted for.

Executive meeting?

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was present at Haneda airport as the plane carrying his country's victims and survivors landed on Friday.

Mr Kishida was accompanied by representatives of JGC, which employed - directly or indirectly - all the Japanese nationals caught up in the crisis.

The nine coffins were unloaded during a brief ceremony and bouquets of white flowers were laid on top of them.

Flags flew at half mast at government buildings across Tokyo, and mourners came to pay their respects at a makeshift altar outside the headquarters of JGC.

The company's president, Koichi Kawana, who returned on Friday flight, said in televised remarks: "Our grief is heartbreaking. We have lost 10 magnificent staff."

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo says Japanese media have cited anonymous sources as saying that Mr Aratani had been on a rare visit to the plant to meet senior executives from partner companies. JGC has made no comment on the claims.

Earlier this week, the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that a vice-president of the British oil giant BP was also at the plant at the time of the attack and was killed - a claim BP on which has also not commented.

Our correspondent says the rumours are fuelling speculation that a meeting of senior executives was being held at the plant at the time, and could have been the hostage-takers' intended target.

Canadian investigation

Statoil confirmed that three of its Norwegian employees at the site had died.

They were identified as Thomas Snekkevik, 35, Tore Bech, 58, the stepfather of Norway's Minister of International Development, Heikki Holmas, and Hans Bjone, who was 55.

Another two Statoil employees are still missing. Norway's foreign ministry has admitted that it is "unlikely any survivors will be found".

The Philippines meanwhile said eight of its nationals were now known to have died.

"[The eighth victim's] body was positively identified by our team in Algeria. We still have one unaccounted for," foreign ministry spokesman Raul Hernandez told the AFP news agency.

Canada said it had sent police to Algiers to investigate the government's assertion that two Canadian nationals were among the hostage-takers.

Mr Sellal said the raid had been co-ordinated by a Canadian named only as Chedad - a common Arab surname in the region.

The crisis began on 16 January when militants attacked two buses carrying foreign workers from the In Amenas gas facility, which lies in the desert in eastern Algeria, not far from the border with Libya. A Briton and an Algerian died in the initial raid.

The militants then took other foreign workers hostage at the gas complex, which was quickly surrounded by the Algerian army. Special forces stormed the living area on 19 January and the gas treatment plant two days later.

Algerian state media said later that about 700 Algerian workers at the plant had escaped.

  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.