An unknown number of Japanese taken hostage at a natural gas complex in Algeria were killed or are missing, the Algerian government told Tokyo early Sunday after eliminating the hostage takers, a militant Islamic group.

Meanwhile, French public radio reported Sunday that an Algerian employee at JGC said he witnessed the militants killing nine Japanese employees at the complex on Wednesday — the day the crisis started.

Reacting to word from the government, JGC Corp. spokesman Takeshi Endo said Sunday that “we are now facing a severe situation,” although the company hasn’t yet confirmed the reports.

Endo said the Yokohama-based company has confirmed that 41 workers at the complex, all Algerians, were safe. It also said 61 of its 78 workers survived the crisis, including seven Japanese. But the whereabouts of its other 10 Japanese employees was still unknown as of Sunday afternoon.

JGC said the seven Japanese survivors were staying in Algiers on Sunday and that some had met with JGC President Koichi Kawana.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the same day that Tokyo had yet to verify the Algerian government’s report and was dispatching officials to accompany JGC’s officials to Ain Amenas, a city near the complex, to get the facts.

Suga warned that the possible presence of land mines in the area could make it difficult for the officials to reach Ain Amenas.

“We’d like them to go as quickly as possible,” Suga said.

Suga also criticized the Algerian government for launching a hasty attack on the plant that endangered the hostages.

Algerian state-run TV reported that 23 of the hostages and 32 of the Islamic militants were killed in the attack.

In the final assault, the remaining band of militants killed several hostages before 11 of them were in turn cut down by special forces, Algeria’s state news agency said. The military launched the assault on Saturday to prevent a fire started by the extremists from engulfing the complex and blowing it up, the report said.

A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreign workers were freed over the course of the four-day standoff, the ministry said, adding that the group of militants that attacked the remote Saharan gas complex consisted of 32 men of various nationalities, including three Algerians, and included explosives experts.

The military also said it confiscated heavy machineguns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway’s Statoil, said that the entire refinery had been mined and that the process of clearing it is under way.

“We never tolerate terrorism . . . but we had asked the Algerian government to put top priority on the lives (of the hostages). It’s extremely regrettable to see developments like this,” Suga said.

Suga also said the Japanese government had not yet obtained photos or other items that could be used to confirm the deaths of Japanese hostages, stressing that Tokyo needs to independently verify the Algerian government’s findings.

Early Sunday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called his Algerian counterpart Abdelmalek Sellal and asked him to “cooperate” in finding the missing Japanese. Sellal agreed, according to Suga.

“We have faced a severe report” about the fate of Japanese workers, Abe told reporters later the same day.

The complex was jointly run by BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s state-owned oil company. JGC was hired to build some of the facilities at the complex.

Information from AP, Kyodo added

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