One hostage believed to have local ties
KTRH affiliate FOX News has confirmed that one American has died in the hostage standoff at an Algerian gas complex. Officials told the Associated Press the deceased American is Texas resident, Frederick Buttaccio. It is unclear how he died.
The officials say Buttaccio's remains have been recovered and his family has been notified.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Earlier Friday, the State Department confirmed there are still American hostages being held by an Al Qaeda-linked group at the gas plant, deep in the Saharan desert. When asked about a report that the group wants to trade hostages for terror figures jailed in the United States, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "The United States does not negotiate with terrorists."
A Mauritanian news site that often reports news from North African extremists received a statement Friday about the Al Qaeda-linked group offering to trade two Americans being held for two terror figures jailed in the United States. One of the two, Omar Abdel Rahman, masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Nuland said the U.S. is working with Algeria and other governments to try to secure the release of the hostages. She did not confirm the supposed trade but repeatedly told reporters, "The United States does not negotiate with terrorists."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press says Algerian state news service is reporting nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from the gas plant in the Saharan Desert. That number of hostages at the remote desert facility was significantly higher than any previous report, and still meant that the fate of over 30 foreign energy workers was unclear.
Algeria's state news agency also reported late Friday that a "provisional toll" shows 12 hostages have been killed since the start of the Algerian military operation to free workers kidnapped by militants at the plant. The APS news agency quoted an unidentified security source for the new death toll and said the fatalities include both Algerian and foreign workers.
That hostage death toll would be more than double the one APS had reported earlier
Fox News reports that within the last few hours a U.S. C-130 cargo aircraft left Algeria with casualties on board. It's not clear how many people are on the plane or their identities, but a source says there were no U.S. citizens. The plane is headed to Sigonella air base in Sicily, Italy.
A second aircraft, a U.S. C-17, is on the ground in Algeria to take out more casualties. Both U.S. aircraft were deployed out of Ramstein air base in Germany. Fox News has learned the Algerians have allowed American support only in the form of evacuations, and won’t allow offensive military action from the U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Friday that she is in touch with the Algerian Prime Minister and urged him to take the utmost care to protect the hostages.
"We will not rest until we do as much as we can - alone and in concert with our partners - to restore security to this vital region and to bring those, who would terrorize and kill innocent people, to justice," Clinton said.
An American from Texas remains missing after the raid but two Americans escaped unharmed Thursday, a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News. Five other Americans who had been at the vast Ain Amenas complex were able to avoid being taken captive when the terrorists first attacked early Wednesday.
The Associated Press reports at least six people, and perhaps many more, were killed -- Britons, Filipinos and Algerians -- in the Algerians special forces' rescue mission. Dozens more remained unaccounted for, including Britons, French, Norwegians, Romanians, Malaysians, Japanese, Algerians, at least one American and the fighters themselves.
The two Americans who managed to escape before the raid are en route to London, sources told Fox News.
A White House spokesman said Friday that President Barack Obama is receiving regular updates on the situation, according to a Reuters report. ``We are in constant contact with the government of Algeria and have been clear that our first priority is the safety and security of the hostages,'' Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.
Vietor also said Obama spoke about the situation with British Prime Minister David Cameron Thursday. ``We are in close touch with our other international partners, as well as BP's security office in London,'' said Vietor.
Britain's Foreign Office said Friday the hostage crisis in Algeria "remains ongoing" but gave no details of the situation.
The agency reported that three flights left Algeria Thursday, carrying staff from several hundred companies at the site.
The desert siege erupted Wednesday when the militants tried to hijack two buses at the plant, and then seized the sprawling refinery. Algerian troops then surrounded them.
Since then, Algeria's government has kept a tight grip on information about the mass kidnapping.
At least 20 gunmen attacked and took over the complex, reportedly in retaliation for France's military intervention against Al Qaeda-linked rebels in neighboring Mali, though Fox News sources say the attack may have been planned much earlier.
A senior defense official told Fox News that U.S. military aircraft could begin lifting French troops into Mali within the next few days, possibly as soon as Monday.
With the hostage drama entering its second day Thursday, Algerian security forces moved in, first with helicopter fire and then special forces, according to diplomats, a website close to the militants, and an Algerian security official. The government said it was forced to intervene because the militants were being stubborn and wanted to flee with the hostages.
The militants -- led by a Mali-based Al Qaeda offshoot known as the Masked Brigade -- suffered losses in Thursday's military assault, but succeeded in garnering a global audience.
"An important number of hostages were freed and an important number of terrorists were eliminated, and we regret the few dead and wounded," Algerian Communications Minister Mohand Said Oubelaid told national media, adding that the "terrorists are multinational," coming from several different countries with the goal of "destabilizing Algeria, embroiling it in the Mali conflict and damaging its natural gas infrastructure."
Islamists from the Masked Brigade, a Mali-based Al Qaeda offshoot, who have been speaking through a Mauritanian news outlet, said Algerian helicopters opened fire as the militants tried to leave the vast energy complex with their hostages. They claimed that 35 hostages and 15 militants died in the attack and only seven hostages survived.
The reports of high casualties have deeply disturbed foreign governments, prompting a number to criticize Algeria's operation. Britain's Foreign Office attempted to prepare the British public by saying, "We should be under no illusion that there will be some bad and distressing news to follow from this terrorist attack."
Algeria's official news service, meanwhile, earlier claimed that 600 local workers were freed in the raid and half of the foreigners being held were rescued. Many of those locals were reportedly released on Wednesday, however, by the militants themselves.
One Irish hostage was confirmed safe: supervising electrician Stephen McFaul, whose mother said he would not be returning to Algeria.
"He phoned me at 9 o'clock to say Al Qaeda were holding him, kidnapped, and to contact the Irish government, for they wanted publicity. Nightmare, so it was. Never want to do it again.
He'll not be back! He'll take a job here in Belfast like the rest of us," said his mother, Marie.
Dylan, McFaul's 13-year-old son, started crying as he talked to Ulster Television. "I feel over the moon, just really excited. I just can't wait for him to get home," he said.
The kidnapping is one of the largest ever attempted by a militant group in North Africa. The militants phoned a Mauritanian news outlet to demand that France end its intervention in neighboring Mali to ensure the safety of the hostages in the isolated plant, located 800 miles south of the capital of Algiers.
Phone contacts with the militants were severed as government forces closed in, according to the Mauritanian agency.
"I would not be surprised if the death toll was has high as the militants put it, it's a well-known fact that the Algerians never had problems causing a blood bath to respond to terrorist attacks," said Riccardo Fabiani, North Africa analyst for the Eurasia group, who expressed doubt over Algeria's claims that mediation was abandoned in the face of the kidnappers' intransigence. "I wonder whether really in 24 hours you can establish some kind of negotiations with terrorists, I don't think they really tried.
A 58-year-old Norwegian engineer who made it to the safety of a nearby Algerian military camp told his wife how militants attacked a bus Wednesday before being fended off by a military escort
"Bullets were flying over their heads as they hid on the floor of the bus," Vigdis Sletten told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her home in Bokn, on Norway's west coast.
Her husband and the other bus passengers climbed out of a window and were transported to a nearby military camp, she said.
"He is among the lucky ones, and he has confirmed he is not injured," she said, declining to give his name for security reasons.
It was then that the militants went after the living quarters of the plant instead of disappearing back into the desert.
A spokesman for the Masked Brigade told the Nouakchott Information Agency in Mauritania that the seven surviving hostages included three Belgians, two Americans, a Briton and a Japanese citizen.
The Norwegian energy company Statoil had said three Algerian employees who had been held hostage were safe but the fate of nine Norwegian workers was unclear. Japanese media reported at least 3 Japanese citizens among the hostages and Malaysia confirmed two.
Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well-armed gunmen operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, Al Qaeda's strongman in the Sahara, who is now based in Mali.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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