DUBAI, January 17 (RIA Novosti) – An Islamist terrorist group which seized dozens of hostages on Wednesday is demanding 20 four-wheel-drive vehicles and a safe corridor to the Malian border, Algerian newspaper El Khabar reported on Thursday.
The terrorists, who have threatened to kill their hostages if their demands are not met, staged a deadly attack on a natural gas field near the eastern Algerian desert town of In Amenas on Wednesday morning, reportedly killing two people.
According to the Algerian Interior Ministry, the group, which calls itself the Masked Brigade, is holding about 20 hostages, which include Algerian, British, French, Japanese, Norwegian and US citizens . Other news reports have claimed the group has taken more than 40 hostages.
El Akbar, citing an anonymous source, also reported Thursday that Algerian special forces were ready at a moment's notice to launch a rescue operation.
Officials said earlier the attackers had planned to ferry the hostages out of Algeria, adding that the authorities will neither negotiate with them nor fulfil their demands, reported by various media to include the release of Islamists from Algerian prisons and an end to French military action in neighboring Mali.
The gas field accomodation buildings where the hostages are being held is currently surrounded by soldiers of the Algerian army.
"People’s National Army forces (ANP) and security services arrived on the scene and immediately took all measures to secure the region and find a quick solution to this situation, which is closely followed by the authorities," the Algerian Interior and Local Authorities said in a statement reported by the Algeria Press Service.
The hostage crisis comes as the French military carries out an assault in central Mali against radical Islamists who, along with a secular Tuareg rebellion, have since last March plunged the North African country back into violent turmoil.
Algeria fought a vicious war in the 1990s against Islamic insurgents. The period, known as the “black decade,” left about 200,000 Algerians dead.
The country has enjoyed a period of relative stability in recent years, however, largely due to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s national reconciliation policy.