- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2013

The four-day armed hostage standoff between al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and the Algerian military at a natural-gas plant in the remote Sahara desert ended over the weekend with at least 23 hostages dead, including at least one American, out of more than 130 foreigners and several hundred Algerians held by the extremists.

The casualty figures, reported by Algerian state media, are were expected to rise.

Algerian officials said special forces killed the 32 heavily armed kidnappers, part of a multinational group of terrorist loyal to the one-eyed Algerian jihadist known as Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

The Algerian military said it had recovered heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades at the site, which they said had been wired with booby-trap bombs. One hostage who spoke to the media during the siege said the Westerners among them were made to wear explosive belts.

As Algerian special forces continue to search the huge plant for survivors and bodies, the death toll “may be revised upward,” Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said warned Sunday.

Unidentified Algerian officials told reporters that an additional 25 bodies had been found at the plant, though it was not immediately clear whether they were hostages or terrorists.

In Washington on Friday, the State Department identified the dead American as Frederick Buttaccio but gave no further details out of respect for the family’s privacy, according to spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Over the weekend, Fox News identified him as a Texan and said he had died of a heart attack during the second assault on the plant by Algerian special forces Friday.

Other media reports said Mark Cobb, another Texan working at the plant, had escaped with Algerian colleagues and contacted his family to say he was safe.

Questions about the assault

There was no word of the fate, or even the number, of other Americans who were kidnapped.

“We do know that there were Americans there, and we do know that they were held hostage,” said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta before returning to the United States on Saturday from a European trip.

“As to what has happened [to them], that’s something, frankly, we just need to get better information on.”

In a brief statement from the White House on Saturday evening, President Obama said, “We will remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday that three British subjects had been killed and another three were unaccounted for and believed dead, along with a foreigner who was living in Britain. He said that 22 Britons who had survived the ordeal were now back in Britain.

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