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U.S. officials have confirmed that Americans are among the hostages being held following an attack by al Qaeda-linked insurgents on a BP joint-venture natural gas field in Algeria.
A senior intelligence official told ABC News that it currently appears three U.S. citizens are being held. However, the official cautioned that the number is subject to change as is the overall number of hostages.
The total number of hostages being held remains unclear, with reports ranging from 15 to more than 40. An official at BP told ABC News that there are approximately 700 local staff and contractors at the facility and 20 international BP staff and contractors at the In Amenas gas field in eastern central Algeria.
The attack was apparently carried out by a one-eyed jihadi leader, Mokhtar Belmokhar, who has been linked to a series of kidnappings of foreign nationals for ransom in North Africa that have earned tens of millions of dollars for al Qaeda’s local affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Belmokhtar has been nicknamed Mr. Marlboro for his smuggling expertise.
In a briefing, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland condemned the attacks and confirmed that U.S. citizens are among the hostages.
“In order to protect their safety,” said Nuland, “I’m not going to get into numbers, I’m not going to get into names, I’m not going to get into any further details as we continue to work on this situation with Algerian authorities and also their employers.”
“We are obviously closely monitoring the situation and in close contact with the government of Algeria and BP’s security,” said Nuland.
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