Algeria hostage drama 'ongoing'

7:37am Friday 18th January 2013

© Press Association 2014

The hostage crisis in Algeria is not over yet, the Foreign Office has said.

Despite reports from Algerian state news agency APS that the crisis had ended on Thursday night, the FCO in London said in a statement that it was "ongoing".

At least one British national has been killed and Prime Minister David Cameron has said the country "should be prepared for bad news".

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The terrorist incident in Algeria remains ongoing. The Prime Minister spoke twice to his Algerian counterpart, prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal, on Thursday. He chaired Cobra twice on Thursday, and will chair another meeting on Friday morning; Cobra will continue to meet as long as the crisis lasts. As the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have said, to the best of our knowledge on the information given to us by the Algerian government, one British national has sadly been killed.

"We are not in a position to give further information at this time. But the Prime Minister has advised we should be prepared for bad news. Our priority will remain the safety of British nationals and their co-workers. We cannot provide any details that might endanger their lives. But we are working round the clock to resolve this crisis."

Mr Cameron will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this morning as efforts continue to establish the full scale of the bloodshed.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has cut short a visit to Australia to return to the UK and there is expected to be a ministerial statement to the Commons.

The Algerian rescue effort was launched early yesterday morning without consultation with the UK, to the dismay of Number 10. Mr Cameron was informed that it was under way when he telephoned his Algerian counterpart yesterday morning despite having earlier asked to be kept fully updated. Offers of British help had been declined.

The drama began on Wednesday morning when heavily armed militants launched a dawn raid, killing two people and injuring six others. They claimed to have seized 41 foreign workers including Britons, Americans, Norwegians and Japanese. A spokesman for the militants claimed that 35 hostages and 15 rebels had been killed when Algerian helicopters strafed the site in the operation. The militants - reportedly led by the veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar - threatened previously to "eliminate" the hostages if they were attacked.

Speaking in Australia, Mr Hague told Sky News: "This remains a fluid and evolving situation and many details are still unclear, but the responsibility for the tragic events of the last two days squarely rests with terrorists who chose to attack innocent workers, murdering some and holding others hostage. Our priority remains at the moment to identify exactly what has happened to each British national caught up in this incident and, indeed, to help other countries determine what has happened to their nationals."

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