Algiers – Japanese nationals accounted for the largest number of foreign hostages killed during last week’s dramatic standoff with Islamic militants in southeastern Algeria, with Tokyo confirming the 10th victim Thursday.
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said Monday that 37 hostages from eight overseas countries were killed in the four-day hostage crisis at the natural gas plant deep in the Sahara. Twenty-nine militants also died during the rescue operation.
The Philippines had the next highest death toll among the hostages with seven fatalities, followed by Britain and the United States with three victims each.
The Algerian government said some of the hostages may have escaped from the gas complex on their own but became lost in the vast desert surrounding the plant, some 1,300 km southeast of Algiers.
The crisis started in the early hours of Jan. 16, when Islamic militants stormed and seized control of the gas plant in the town of Ain Amenas. The facility is jointly operated by Britain’s BP, Norwegian oil giant Statoil and the Algerian state oil and gas company Sonatrach. The assailants took a number of foreign hostages, including 17 Japanese nationals working for engineering firm JGC Corp., which is based in Yokohama.
The attack is believed to have been organized by Moktar Belmoktar, commander of the Masked Brigade, who has demanded that France halt its military intervention into the civil war in neighboring Mali. The Algerian daily Al-Chorouk reported Thursday that a man arrested in connection with the crisis told authorities he was instructed by Belmoktar to take a total of five hostages from the French, British and Japanese workers — indicating that Japanese nationals were targeted by the terrorists from the beginning.
The newspaper reported that the suspect, a Tunisian man identified only by his nickname, Abu Talha Tounsi, also said that Belmoktar told him to blow up gas fields and facilities while taking care not to hurt Algerians and other Muslims working there.