Europeans taken hostage over Mali war
EU foreign ministers on Thursday (17 January) are holding a crisis meeting on Mali, after one British citizen was killed and 41 internationals taken hostage at a British-Norwegian gas plant in Algeria in retaliation over the French intervention in Mali.
The In Amenas gas plant is a British-Norwegian-Algerian joint venture in the Algerian desert close to the Libyan border.
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It was taken over on Wednesday by an armed group calling itself the Battalion of the Blood, under the command of one Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
The group says it acted in retaliation against the French intervention in Mali against local Al Qaeda affiliates trying to seize control of the country.
British foreign minister William Hague confirmed the death of one British citizen, who was gunned down in the attack.
But he could not say how many other Britons had been taken hostage. An Algerian national is also reported to have been killed, according to local media, while six hostages are wounded.
"Whatever excuse is being used by terrorists and murderers, there is no excuse. This is the cold-blooded murder of people going about their business," Hague said on Thursday during a visit to Australia.
Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil confirmed in a press conference early Thursday that 12 Norwegian citizens were taken hostage, while five managed to escape to a nearby military base.
A 36-year old Irishman has also been captured, say Irish authorities.
The US and Japan have also confirmed they have nationals among the hostages, but gave no details about their number or age.
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande could not confirm whether any French citizens had been captured.
TV channel France 24 on Wednesday evening broadcast a brief phone interview with a Frenchman on the site, saying that they were locked in a building in In Amenas and had to carry explosives on them to discourage any intervention by the Algerian army.
The Algerian authorities have said there should be no negotiations with terrorists and that the plant is surrounded by armed forces.
The British foreign ministry, for its part, has dispatched a team of diplomats to Algeria.
France last week launched air strikes and deployed ground troops in Mali to prevent its former colony from being taken over by Islamic extremists. President Hollande promised to "destroy" the "terrorists" or take them captive, "if possible."
His intervention is backed by the international community, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday saying that "terrorism in Mali is not only a threat to Africa, but a threat to Europe."
Merkel urged quick EU action on its long-planned training mission for Mali forces and said her government is supporting the French with transport aircraft and mobile medical units.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday said the hostage crisis will feature prominently at the foreign ministers' meeting.
"[The radical groups] have taken many hostages. Many of them originated from European member states. So, under no circumstances, can we be indifferent to the situation," she said.