ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — A raid by Algerian forces -- in an apparent effort to re-take a gas plant in the Sahara Desert that had been captured by Islamist militants -- may have resulted in the deaths of most of the hostages they were holding.
The militants claim that 35 hostages and 15 militants were killed after Algerian military helicopters strafed the area. They say seven hostages survived, including two Americans.
A U.S. official says the Obama administration had offered military assistance to rescue the hostages, but that the Algerian government refused the help.
Algeria's news agency, citing local police, said four foreign hostages were freed in the operation. Earlier, an Algerian security official had said that 20 foreign hostages had escaped before the raid.
Irish officials say an Irish hostage has made contact with his family, and is safe and free.
Algerian forces had surrounded the complex in a tense standoff since the plant was seized, and had vowed not to negotiate with the kidnappers.
204-c-14-(Paul Schemm, AP correspondent)-"have been killed"-AP correspondent Paul Schemm reports it's been impossible so far to reconcile conflicting descriptions of what happened, but we do know that Algerian forces raided the remote Sahara gas plant, trying to free the hostages. (17 Jan 2013)
<<CUT *204 (01/17/13)>> 00:14 "have been killed"
202-c-12-(Paul Schemm, AP correspondent)-"a Japanese person"-AP correspondent Paul Schemm reports that the hostage takers, who call themselves the Masked Brigade, say only seven foreign hostages survived the Algerian army assault on the remote gas facility. (17 Jan 2013)
<<CUT *202 (01/17/13)>> 00:12 "a Japanese person"
GRAPHICSBANK: Amenas natural gas field, Algeria, with logo and HOSTAGES lettering on texture, finished graphic, (17 Jan 2013)
APPHOTO TKOSL801: This April 19, 2005 photo released by Statoil via NTB scanpix, shows the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. As Algerian army helicopters clattered overhead deep in the Sahara desert, Islamist militants hunkered down for the night in the natural gas complex they had assaulted Wednesday morning, killing two people and taking dozens of foreigners hostage in what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/Kjetil Alsvik, Statoil via NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT (19 Apr 2005)
<<APPHOTO TKOSL801 (04/19/05)>>