Algiers: The Algerian Army on Thursday surrounded a natural gas complex where Islamist militants have taken dozens of people as hostage. The rare attack took place on Wednesday night and was seen as an unexpected fallout of the French intervention in Mali.
The militant group, which claimed responsibility for the attack in which two foreigners were killed, said it was holding 41 foreign nationals, including seven Americans, as hostage. The militants attacked one of oil-rich Algeria`s energy facilities, 800 miles from the capital of Algiers and 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) from the coast.
The militants called the attack a revenge for Algeria`s support to France`s military operation against al Qaeda-linked rebels in neighbouring Mali.
The US has described the attack in Algeria as a "terrorist act".
The militants appeared to have no escape, with troops surrounding the complex and Army helicopters clattering overhead.
The group — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — phoned a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation at the Ain Amenas gas field, and that France should end its intervention in Mali to ensure the safety of the hostages.
BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, operate the gas field. A Japanese company, JGC Corp, provides services for the facility as well.
Algeria`s top security official, Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila, said that "security forces have surrounded the area and cornered the terrorists, who are in one wing of the complex`s living quarters."
He said one Briton and one Algerian were killed in the attack, while a Norwegian and two other Britons were among the six wounded.
"We reject all negotiations with the group, which is holding some 20 hostages from several nationalities," Kabila said on national television, raising the spectre of a possible armed assault to try to free the hostages.
(With Agency inputs)