A major international hostage crisis is unfolding after Islamist militants stormed a gas installation in Algeria, abducting scores of workers.
The Algerian Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said an Algerian and a Briton were killed and six others injured during the attack.
A group linked to al Qaeda claims it is holding 41 Westerners. A French catering firm says 150 of its Algerian employees are also being held. There are unconfirmed reports that some local workers have been released.
The plant at the site of In Amenas lies close to the Libyan border, and is jointly run by BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the state Algerian firm Sonatrach.
The French President François Hollande, in close contact with the Algerian authorities, said there was an obvious connection with the French military intervention in Mali – and also other African countries who’re involved in the operation.
He added that the aim of MISMA – the International Mission to Support Mali – was for the country to regain its territorial integrity as soon as possible.
Algeria has allowed French planes to use its airspace, a factor cited by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as one of the reasons for the attack.
In a video released earlier this week the militants’ spokesman warned France to stop its hostilities or it would be “digging the graves of its own sons”.
The hostages are believed to have several nationalities and include Britons, French, Irish, Americans and Japanese. Norway says 13 of its citizens are held.
The Algerian army has recently been trying to secure the southern borders, killing two Islamists.
The government insists it will not negotiate with terrorists.