Algerian TV has broadcast what it says is audiotape of terrorists at the In Amenas gas plant threatening to blow up the facility and "slaughter" U.S. hostages unless 100 imprisoned "comrades" are released, and also claiming that the hostages have been forced to wear bombs.
The recordings that aired on Algeria's Ennahar TV were made before the four-day hostage crisis at the BP joint venture facility in the Sahara ended with nearly all terrorists and at least 23 hostages dead.
"The Americans that are here, we will kill them," says Abdel Rahman el-Nigeri, a leader of the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who held the plant, in Arabic. "We will slaughter them."
A second person, identified by Ennahar TV as a hostage, says, in heavily accented English, "We have prisoners. We have hostages with bombs … on the body."
In Arabic, El-Nigeri demands that 100 "comrades" who were arrested 15 years ago be released. "Our demands are so easy, so easy if you want to negotiate with us," says el Nigeri. "Either we get our brothers out or we die."
He says that some hostages are still living after the Algerian military's initial assault, but warns "we shall bomb them if the Algerian Army gets near to us. Now they are heading towards us, God willing."
Local al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed veteran of the mujahideen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, has now taken credit for the attack, an African news website reported Sunday.
"We in al Qaeda announce this blessed operation," he was reported to have said.
The four-day hostage crisis at an Algerian natural gas plant has left at least one American dead, Fred Buttaccio of Texas. The fate of two more is of growing concern, but seven Americans were among the dozens of Westerners who escaped unharmed. Mark Cobb of Texas and Steven Wysocki of Colorado have both been confirmed as safe.
The siege of the In Amenas facility ended Saturday, when the Algerian military's final assault retook the BP joint venture plant in the Sahara from the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who had raided it Wednesday morning.
The Algerian army nearly killed all the terrorists, but not before the terrorists apparently executed the remaining hostages. Over the course of the siege, 23 hostages died, and Algerian officials fear the toll may go higher. On Sunday, the Algerian government said it had discovered more bodies, but that the bodies were so disfigured it could not determine how many were hostages and how many were terrorists.
Survivors said the attackers focused on Americans and other foreigners, and one of the captors spoke excellent English. Many of the terrorists were dressed as security guards, making the decision to run for it difficult.
"When you don't know what's out there," said survivor Alan Wright, "and we know that the terrorists are dressed the same as the security forces, that was a huge decision. Do you stay or do you go?"
"For our people in Algeria, for their family and friends, this has been and continues to be a distressing and horrific time," said BP chief executive Bob Dudley.
The dead American was identified by the U.S. State Department as 58-year-old Fred Buttaccio of suburban Houston. The fate of two other Americans remains uncertain.
Most of the 100 or more Western workers who were at the facility when it was raided Wednesday were ultimately freed or escaped. Workers at the plant came from 25 different nations, according to BP, with large contingents from Japan and the U.K.
Said British prime minister David Cameron, "Tragically, we now know that three British nationals have been killed and a further three are believed to be dead; and also a further British resident is also believed to be dead.
In a statement, President Obama said, "Today, the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the families of all those who were killed and injured in the terrorist attack in Algeria. The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms. ... This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa."
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee told ABC News today the U.S. knew some kind of attack was coming from Belmokhtar's Mali-based group, which goes by various names, including the Masked Brigade.
Said Rep. Mike Rogers, R.-Michigan, "We didn't know for sure, for certain it would be this particular place under those circumstances, but we knew that they were trying to find a Western target."