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Gas plant siege in Sahara was highly organized

3 Americans among dead

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ALGIERS — The Islamist terrorists who attacked a natural gas plant in the Sahara included two Canadians and bombmakers who had memorized the layout of the sprawling complex and were ready to blow the place sky-high, Algeria's prime minister said Monday.

Militants in the highly organized operation also wore Algerian army uniforms and appeared to have help from the inside — a man from Niger who had once worked as driver at the plant, he said.

Algeria detailed a grim toll from the attack, saying that 38 hostages and 29 militants died in four days of mayhem. Three of the attackers were captured and five foreign workers remained unaccounted for, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal told reporters at a news conference in Algiers, the capital.

In Washington, officials said three U.S. citizens were killed in the standoff, while seven Americans made it out safely. The State Department confirmed that gas workers Victor Lynn Lovelady and Gordon Lee Rowan were killed at the Ain Amenas gas field in the Sahara. U.S. officials identified Texas resident Frederick Buttaccio as the first death last week.

"The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. "We will continue to work closely with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of the terrorist attack of last week and how we can work together moving forward to combat such threats in the future."

A U.S. official had told The Associated Press earlier Monday that the FBI had recovered the bodies of Mr. Lovelady, of Nederland, Texas, and Mr. Rowan and notified their families. The official had no details on how the Americans died.

Monday's account from the Algerian government was the first official narrative of the four-day standoff, from the attempted bus hijacking early Wednesday to the moment when the attackers prepared to explode bombs across the gas plant, which spreads out over 2 square miles deep in the desert, 800 miles south of Algiers.

All but one of the dead hostages — an Algerian driver — were foreigners.

The final death toll was unclear because accounts from other governments appeared to indicate that more than five workers were still missing. It was also lower than the 81 estimated Sunday in Algerian reports of dead and missing.

The militants had said during the standoff that their group included Canadians, and hostages who had escaped recalled hearing at least one of the militants speaking English with a North American accent.

Mr. Sellal also indicated that this operation was not — as the Islamists had claimed — an immediate reaction to France's recent military intervention against Islamists in neighboring Mali, since the captured militants said it took two months of planning.

The prime minister said "the last words of the terrorist chief" was to slaughter the hostages.

"He gave the order for all the foreigners to be killed, so there was a mass execution, many hostages were killed by a bullet to the head," he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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