AIN AMENAS, Algeria – Algerian security forces tried today to bring an end to a 4-day-old standoff with Islamist extremists holding foreign hostages at a gas plant, a drama that has left at least 12 dead and horrified governments around the world.
Algerian authorities gave no clear sign of how many people are still alive or captive at the Ain Amenas plant in southeast Algeria as of this morning. The plant is jointly run by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state-owned oil company.
Casualty figures varied widely. The Algerian government says 12 hostages and 18 militants died in a military attack on a convoy of militants Thursday. The militants claimed that 35 hostages were killed, according to a Mauritanian website, ANI, that is close to the extremists.
One American, from Texas, is among the dead, and the militants offered to trade two American hostages for two terrorists behind bars in the U.S., an offer firmly rejected by Washington. Britons, French and Algerians have also died in the standoff.
Hundreds of Algerian and foreign workers have been freed, some describing being used as human shields and having explosives strapped around their necks after the militants burst into the plant Wednesday.