The hostage-taking at a remote Algerian gas plant was carried out by 30 terrorists from across the northern swath of Africa and two from Canada, authorities said. The terrorists, who wore military uniforms and knew the layout, included explosives experts who rigged it with bombs and a leader whose final order was to kill all the captives.
The operation also had help with inside knowledge — a former driver at the plant, Algeria’s prime minister said Monday.
In all, 38 workers and 29 attackers died, the Algerian prime minister said Monday, offering the government’s first detailed account of four days of chaos that ended with a bloody military raid he defended as the only way possible to end the standoff. Five foreigners are still missing.
“You may have heard the last words of the terrorist chief,” Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal told reporters. “He gave the order for all the foreigners to be killed, so there was a mass execution, many hostages were killed by a bullet to the head.”
Monday’s account offered the first Algerian government narrative of the standoff, from the moment of the attempted bus hijacking on Wednesday to the moment when the attackers prepared Saturday to detonate bombs across the sprawling complex. That’s when Algerian special forces moved in for the second and final time.
All but one of the dead victims — an Algerian security guard — were foreigners. The dead hostages included seven Japanese workers, six Filipinos, three energy workers each from the U.S. and Britain, two from Romania and one worker from France.
The prime minister said three attackers were captured but did not specify their nationalities or their conditions or say where they were being held.
He said the Islamists included a former driver at the complex from Niger and that the militants “knew the facility’s layout by heart.” The vast complex is deep in the Sahara, 800 miles (1,300 miles) south of Algiers, with a network of roads and walkways for the hundreds of workers who keep it running.
In addition to the Canadians, the Algerian prime minister said, the terrorist cell included men from Egypt, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Tunisia, as well as three Algerians. Officials in Canada could not confirm that any of the attackers were from there.
Three Americans died in the attack and seven made it out safely, a U.S. official in Washington said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The bodies have been recovered, the official said.