An audio recording of Algerian security forces speaking with the head of the kidnappers, Abdel Rahman al-Nigiri, indicates that the hostage-takers were trying to organize a prisoner swap with authorities.
“You see our demands are so easy, so easy if you want to negotiate with us,” al-Nigiri said in the recording broadcast by Algerian television. “We want the prisoners you have, the comrades who were arrested and imprisoned 15 years ago. We want 100 of them.”
People familiar with al-Nigiri confirmed that the voice in the recording was his.
In another phone message, al-Nigiri described how half the militants had been killed by the Algerian army on Thursday and that he was ready to blow up the remaining hostages if security forces attacked again.
SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors videos from radicals, posted one showing al-Nigiri with what appears to be an explosive belt strapped around his waist, dating from Jan. 17, after the start of the attack.
Algeria’s prisons are filled with militants from the long battle with Islamist extremists that began in the 1990s.
David Plouffe, a senior adviser to President Obama, said Sunday that al Qaeda and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups remain a threat in North Africa and other parts of the world and that the U.S. is determined to help other countries destroy these networks. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Plouffe said the attack in Algeria shows once again “that all across the globe countries are threatened by terrorists who will use civilians to try and advance their twisted and sick agenda.”
The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning Saturday night for Americans in or traveling to Algeria, citing credible threats of the kidnapping of Western nationals. The department also authorized the departure from Algeria of staff members’ families if they choose to leave.
Immediately after the assault, French President Francois Hollande gave his backing to Algeria’s tough tactics, saying they were “the most adapted response to the crisis.”
“There could be no negotiations” with terrorists, the French media quoted him as saying in the central French city of Tulle.
Mr. Hollande said the hostages were “shamefully murdered” by their captors, and he linked the event to France’s military operation against al-Qaeda-backed rebels in neighboring Mali.
“If there was any need to justify our action against terrorism, we would have here, again, an additional argument,” he said.
On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was “appalled” at the idea that blame would be laid on Algerian authorities instead of the jihadist captors.
“The terrorists … they’re the ones to blame,” Mr. Fabius said on France’s iTele TV channel. He said Algerian officials were in touch with the French during the crisis, “but they didn’t have to tell us: ‘Here is what we will do.’”
In the final assault, the remaining band of militants killed seven hostages before 11 of them were in turn cut down by the special forces, Algeria’s state news agency said. The military launched its Saturday assault to prevent a fire started by the extremists from engulfing the complex and blowing it up, the report added.