Islamic militants that attacked a BP gas facility in Algeria on Wednesday now claim to hold 41 foreign nationals hostage, including British, US, Norwegian, French and Japanese nationals.
The number of foreign hostages held captive by Islamic militants at the BP compound close to the Libyan border is much higher than initially reported. The BBC reports 20 hostages are held, based on company reports that 20 staff were working in the compound. However, Islamists state 41 hostages are held.
Channel News Asia reported the group Signatories for Blood, led by one-eyed Algerian national Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the attack on the Mauritanian website Alakhbar. The group stated the attack was in retaliation for French intervention in Mali.
Signatories for Blood issued a statement saying: "Algeria was chosen for this operation to teach (President Abdelaziz) Bouteflika that we will never accept the humiliation of the Algerian people's honour... by opening Algerian airspace to French planes." The militants are demanding the release of 100 Islamists held in Algeria in exchange for the release of the western hostages.
According to the BBC a worker reported the terrorists have mined the facility and demanded water, food and vehicles.
Algerian troops now surround the compound, as Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila stated the government refused to negotiate with the hostage takers.
CBS News reported three Americans are amongst the hostages. David Cameron has confirmed British nationals are held. Britain has further confirmed a British national was killed in the attacked.
According to the Telegraph the man behind the attack is an experienced hostage taker. Mokhtar Belmokhtar has eluded capture but was tried and convicted in absentia by an Algerian court in 2007 for his involvement in the killing of 10 Algerian custom officers. Islamic gangster Belmokhtar is known locally as "Mr Marlboro" due to his involvement in cigarette smuggling.