Algerian assault ends crisis, 23 hostages dead

Border guard intervention brigade vehicles are seen in a street of Ain Amenas, near the gas plant where hostages have been held by Islamic militants, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. Algeria's special forces stormed the natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert in a final assault Saturday, killing 11 militants. AP Photo/Anis Belghoul

Last Updated 4:18 p.m. ET

AIN AMENAS, Algeria Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert on Saturday in a "final assault" that ended a four-day-old hostage crisis, according to the state news agency and two foreign governments.

The Algerian government says 32 militants and 23 captives were killed during a three-day military operation to end the hostage crisis.

The provisional death toll was issued by the Interior Ministry on Saturday after the special forces operation crushed the last holdout of militants at the gas refinery, resulting in 11 extremists killed along with seven hostages.

A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the standoff, which began on Wednesday, the statement added.

The military also confiscated machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

The ministry added that the militants involved consisted of 32 men of various nationalities, including three Algerians.

An earlier report said the army was forced to intervene Saturday after a fire broke out in the plant, and said the militants killed the hostages. It wasn't immediately possible to verify who killed the captives.

The report, quoting a security source, also didn't give the nationalities of the dead.

The Ain Amenas plant is jointly run by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state-owned oil company. The governments of Norway and Britain said they received confirmation the siege was over.

Amenas gas facility, algeria
A high-resolution satellite image of the Amenas gas facility taken on Dec 7, 2012.
GeoEye Satellite Image

The entire refinery was mined with explosives and set to blow up, the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach said in a statement, adding that the process of clearing the explosives had begun. The Algerian media reported that the militants had planned to blow up the complex.

The siege transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al Qaeda stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world.

Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of the country's history in confronting terrorists — military action over negotiation — and caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent negotiation — first on Thursday and then on Saturday.

The latest deaths bring the official Algerian tally of dead to 19 hostages and 29 militants, although reports on the number of dead, injured and freed have been contradictory throughout the crisis. Militants originally said they had seized 41 foreign hostages.

The al Qaeda-linked militants attacked the plant Wednesday morning. They crept across the border from Libya, 60 miles (100 kilometers) away, and fell on a pair of buses taking foreign workers to the airport. The buses' military escort drove off the attackers in a blaze of gunfire that sent bullets zinging over the heads of crouching workers. A Briton and an Algerian — probably a security guard — were killed.

Frustrated, the militants turned to the vast gas complex, divided between the workers' living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages, the Algerian government said. The gas flowing to the site was cut off.

On Thursday, Algerian helicopters opened fire on a convoy carrying both kidnappers and their hostages, resulting in many deaths, according to witnesses.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.