(CBS News) LONDON - Four days after it started, the standoff between Algerian forces and al Qaeda-linked militants in the Sahara Desert is over. Algerian special forces stormed a remote natural gas complex where hundreds of workers had been held captive. Algerian officials say 23 hostages are dead, including one American. About 32 militants are reported to have been killed.
Some of the hostages were able to escape from the gas plant before Algerian special forces launched their final assault.
State media reported that a number of foreign hostages survived, including at least two Americans. But in the chaos, it's not yet possible to get the exact figures.
U.S. military aircraft evacuated some survivors to a NATO airbase in Sicily.
Pictures of the siege show gunmen rounding up hostages. One BP worker said terrorists told him: "'You have nothing to do with this. You are Algerians and Muslims. We only want the foreigners.'"
BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley said 14 of its 18 foreign employees at the plant were safe.
"We are not able to confirm the circumstances of four of our employees," he said. "Tragically, we gravely feel that we will be seeing fatalities from this group."
Algerian troops discovered a cache of heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenades. Hostages said the explosives were wired around their necks.
Local media have have identified Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri as the leader of the attack. He's a lieutenant of Moktar Belmoktar, head of an al Qaeda-linked group based in North Africa.
The Algerian state oil company running the plant said the attackers had the entire refinery booby-trapped and that it would be days before the clearing-out process is complete.