An Algerian security official said Thursday at least 20 foreigners have escaped from the natural gas plant deep in the Sahara desert in Algeria where Islamist militants are holding dozens of hostages.
The official said those escaping included Americans and Europeans. He did not give any further details.
According to a French television report, which quoted one of the hostages, the militants have forced some of the captives to wear belts strapped with explosives, .
France 24 said the man also told the channel during a telephone call late on Wednesday that the hostage-takers were heavily armed and had threatened to blow up the gas facility if the Algerian army tried to free the hostages.
“They attacked the two sites at the same time. They went inside and once it was daylight they gathered everybody together,” the man, who sounded calm, said in the only part of the phone call that France 24 aired.
Gunmen stormed the gas pumping site and workers’ housing before dawn on Wednesday and a group calling itself the “Battalion of Blood” has claimed it is holding 41 foreigners including Americans, Japanese and Europeans at Tigantourine, deep in the Sahara.
Earlier Thursday security sources in Algeria told Al Arabiya that the gunmen released 150 Algerian hostages.
BritishForeign Secretary William Hague confirmed one Briton had been killed and “a number” of others were being held hostage. Algerian media said an Algerian was killed in the assault. Another local report said a Frenchman had died.
Led by an Algerian veteran of guerrilla wars in Afghanistan, the group demanded France halt its week-old intervention in Mali, an operation endorsed by Western and African allies who fear that al-Qaeda, flush with men and arms from the defeated forces of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, is building a haven in the desert.