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“Now, of course, people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events,” he added, addressing widespread concern about the tactics employed by Algerian special forces.

The Algerian military failed to inform other governments with citizens held captive about their decision to assault the plant Thursday and then again Saturday.

Mr. Cameron declined to second-guess Algerian tactics at what he called “one of the most remote places on earth.”

The sprawling complex is Algeria’s third-largest natural-gas facility and is located near the desert frontier town of Ain Amenas on Algeria’s border with Libya..

“The responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack,” Mr. Cameron said.

Japanese officials were the most critical of the Algerian military assaults.

“We never tolerate terrorism,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Sunday in Tokyo.

“But we had asked the Algerian government to put top priority on the lives [of the hostages]. It’s extremely regrettable to see developments like this.”

Talks with terrorists

On Sunday, Algerian TV broadcast a recording of the terrorist leader — an African known as Abdel Rahman al-Nigeri — negotiating with authorities and appearing to try to arrange a swap of the hostages for as many as 100 prisoners jailed in Algeria about 15 years ago.

The audio recording highlights questions about the Algerian decision to assault the plant so early.

“You see our demands are so easy, so easy if you want to negotiate with us,” al-Nigeri said, according to a translation of his comments by the Associated Press. “We want the prisoners you have, the comrades who were arrested and imprisoned 15 years ago. We want 100 of them.”

The reference to prisoners from 15 years ago and the hard-line tactics used by authorities recall the dark days of Algeria’s Islamist insurgency during the 1990s. For most of that decade, the country’s security forces fought a brutal and uncompromising war against Islamists after the military annulled free and fair elections won by an Islamic party.

Islamic insurgents instituted a campaign of terror in Algeria, carrying out mass killings. The security services made widespread use of arbitrary detention, torture and extra-judicial killings during the long, bitter struggle, according to human rights organizations.

Mr. Panetta made oblique reference to that history Saturday, when he backed the Algerian approach.

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