POOL - AP CLIENTS ONLY
Washington - Jan. 16, 2013
1. SOUNDBITE: Victoria Nuland / State Department Spokeswoman
"We condemn in strongest terms the terrorist attack on British Petroleum and personnel at the Ain Amenas Algeria earlier today. We are obviously closely monitoring the situation. We're in contact with Algerian authorities and our diplomatic counterparts in Algiers as well as with BP's security office in London. The best information that we have at this time is that U.S. Citizens are among the hostages. I hope you will understand that in order to protect their safety, I'm not going to get into numbers, I'm not going to get into names, I'm not going to get into any further details as we continue to work on this issue with Algerian authorities and also with their employers. Let me also say that the Secretary has spoken to our ambassador in Algiers, Ambassador Ensher today. And as I was coming down here she was on the phone with Algerian Prime Minister Selah."
In what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali, Islamist militants attacked and occupied a natural gas complex partly operated by energy company BP in southern Algeria on Wednesday. Two foreigners were killed and dozens of others, including Americans, were taken hostage.
A militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for Algeria's support of France's operation against al-Qaida-linked Malian rebels groups far to the southeast. It said it was holding 41 foreigners, including seven Americans.
Algerian forces have surrounded the complex and the state news agency reported a bit more than 20 people were being held, including Americans, Britons, Norwegians, French and Japanese, citing the local authorities.
In a statement, BP said the site was "attacked and occupied by a group of unidentified armed people," and some of its personnel are believed to be "held by the occupiers."
The number and identities of the hostages were still unclear, but Ireland announced that a 36-year-old married Irish man was among them, while Japan and Britain said their citizens were involved as well. A Norwegian woman said her husband called her saying he had been taken hostage.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that according to their information "U.S. citizens were among the hostages."
In addition to those killed _ one of them a Briton _ six were wounded in the attack, including two foreigners, two police officers and two security agents, the state news agency reported.
Hundreds of Algerians work at the plant and were taken in the attack, but the state news agency reported that they have gradually been released in small groups, unharmed by the late afternoon.
A group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, called a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation on the Ain Amenas gas field, taking 41 hostages from nine or 10 different nationalities, including the seven Americans.