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25 more bodies found at gas plant, Algerian official say

2:08 PM, Jan 20, 2013   |    comments
Algerian soldiers secure the airport in Ain Amenas, Algeria, before the departure of freed hostages Saturday. (Photo: Mohamed Kadri via AP)
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Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found 25 more bodies on Sunday as they searched for explosive traps left behind by the attackers, a security official said, a day after a bloody raid ended the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the bodies were badly disfigured and difficult to identify.

"The bodies could be either Algerian or foreign hostages," he said.

Nations continued to wait Sunday for a full accounting of missing nationals after the four-day hostage standoff in Algeria ended Saturday. Algerian authorities said on Saturday that 23 hostages and 32 militants were killed.

Algerian spokesman Mohamed Said said Sunday that he expects the death toll to rise.

"I am very concerned that this preliminary death toll will be, unfortunately, revised upwards in the coming hours," he said.

Special forces continue to secure the facility and look for more victims, Said added.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday three Britons were killed and another three are believed dead, as is a British resident.

"Now, of course, people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack," Cameron said.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said his country is awaiting word on five missing workers.

"We have to face the fact that Norwegian lives might have been lost," he said. "But we also have to feel relief that (eight) have been already saved."

One American, Frederick Buttaccio of Texas, was confirmed dead Friday. The Algerian government reported that 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed during the four-day standoff.

In the final assault Saturday, the remaining band of militants killed seven hostages before 11 of them were in turn cut down by the special forces, Algeria's state news agency said. The military also said it confiscated heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

The Algerian government defended its actions against the al-Qaeda-linked group who call themselves "Signers in Blood."

"The terrorists were determined to be successful in their operation; they had planned to blow up the gas complex and execute all the hostages," Said said, citing the "sophisticated arsenal" of weapons recovered.

The State Department issued a travel warning Saturday night for Americans in or traveling to Algeria, citing credible threats of the kidnapping of Western nationals. The department also authorized the departure from Algeria of staff members' families if they choose to leave.

Militants attacked the Ain Amenas gas plant early Wednesday after initially assaulting a bus with facility workers en route to the local airport.

The terrorists, made up of at least six nationalities, then retreated to two different sections in the facility. Algerian special forces began an assault on the facility to free the hostages Thursday, in a move that took Western nations by surprise because they weren't consulted beforehand.

Algeria has been fighting a war against militants for two decades and refuses to negotiate with terrorists.

After Saturday's assault, French President Francois Hollande gave his backing to Algeria's tough tactics, saying they were "the most adapted response to the crisis."

"There could be no negotiations" with terrorists, the French media quoted him as saying in the central French city of Tulle.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Jabeen Bhatti, USA TODAY

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