The hostage standoff at a North African natural gas plant in the Sahara Desert appears to have come to a violent close after Algerian military officials stormed the complex Saturday.
Twenty-three hostages and 32 militants were reported killed in the attacks after a four-day standoff that started when militants on Wednesday took over the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria. One of those hostages killed, U.S.State Department officials confirm, was Frederick Buttaccio from Texas.
During a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond on Saturday said the hostage crisis had “been brought to an end.”
“The loss of life as a result of these attacks is appalling and unacceptable. We must be clear that it is the terrorists who bear sole responsibility for it,” said Hammond.
The gas plant is an international joint venture run by BP, Statoil of Norway, and Algeria’s state oil and gas company Sonatrach. Algerian news services report that 107 foreign hostages and 685 Algerian hostages have been released, but that more Western workers remain unaccounted for. U.S. officials told NBC News Friday that an estimated five Americans were taken hostage in the four-day standoff.
The militants were reportedly connected to al-Qaida, U.S. officials say. During the press conference with Hammond in London on Saturday, Secy. Panetta said the perpetrators of the siege “will have no place to hide.”
“Just as we cannot accept terrorism attacks against our cities, we cannot accept attacks against our citizens and our interests abroad,” he said.
Though Algeria’s military staged a rescue attempt on Thursday, without requesting aid from countries with stakes in the crisis, the situation did not come to a full close until Saturday. In a statement from the White House, President Obama condemned al-Qaida and said the U.S. is prepared to provide whatever assistance necessary for Algerian officials to deal with the aftermath of the attack.
“Today, the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the families of all those who were killed and injured in the terrorist attack in Algeria. The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms,” President Obama said in the statement.