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Death toll climbs past 80 in siege in the Sahara

  • In this image made from video, a group of people believed to be hostages kneel in the sand with their hands in the air at an unknown location in Algeria. An Algerian security official says de-mining squads searching for explosives found "numerous" bodies Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at a gas refinery where Islamic militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT

    In this image made from video, a group of people believed to be hostages kneel in the sand with their hands in the air at an unknown location in Algeria. An Algerian security official says de-mining squads searching for explosives found "numerous" bodies Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at a gas refinery where Islamic militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT

  • In this undated photo, a man stands next to the body of an unidentified person near Ain Amenas, Algeria. Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found "numerous" new bodies on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 as they searched for explosive traps left behind by the attackers, a security official said, a day after a bloody raid ended the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery. (AP Photo/Echorouk Elyaoumi)

    In this undated photo, a man stands next to the body of an unidentified person near Ain Amenas, Algeria. Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found "numerous" new bodies on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 as they searched for explosive traps left behind by the attackers, a security official said, a day after a bloody raid ended the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery. (AP Photo/Echorouk Elyaoumi)

  • This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. Algerian officials scrambled Thursday Jan. 17, 2013 for a way to end an armed standoff deep in the Sahara desert with Islamic militants who have taken dozens of foreigners hostage, turning to tribal Algerian Tuareg leaders for talks and contemplating an international force. The group claiming responsibility — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — says it has captured 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in the surprise attack Wednesday on the Ain Amenas gas plant. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara.  (AP Photo/SITE Intel Group) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS PICTURE. MANDATORY CREDIT: SITE Intel Group

    This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. Algerian officials scrambled Thursday Jan. 17, 2013 for a way to end an armed standoff deep in the Sahara desert with Islamic militants who have taken dozens of foreigners hostage, turning to tribal Algerian Tuareg leaders for talks and contemplating an international force. The group claiming responsibility — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — says it has captured 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in the surprise attack Wednesday on the Ain Amenas gas plant. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara. (AP Photo/SITE Intel Group) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS PICTURE. MANDATORY CREDIT: SITE Intel Group

  • Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is embraced by Executive Vice President in Statoil, Margrethe Oevrum, Saturday Jan. 19,  2013, after his visit at the drop-in center in Bergen for relatives of the Statoil-employees taken hostage in Algeria. In a bloody finale on Saturday, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert to end a four-day standoff with Islamic extremists that left at least 19 hostages and 29 militants dead. With few details emerging from the remote site, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation. (AP Photo / Anette Karlsen, NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT

    Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is embraced by Executive Vice President in Statoil, Margrethe Oevrum, Saturday Jan. 19, 2013, after his visit at the drop-in center in Bergen for relatives of the Statoil-employees taken hostage in Algeria. In a bloody finale on Saturday, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert to end a four-day standoff with Islamic extremists that left at least 19 hostages and 29 militants dead. With few details emerging from the remote site, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation. (AP Photo / Anette Karlsen, NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT

  • Two British hostages Peter, left, and Alan, right, (no family name available), are seen after being released, in a street of Ain Amenas, near the gas plant where they have been kidnapped by Islamic militants, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. Algeria's special forces stormed the natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert in a final assault Saturday, killing 11 militants, but not before they in turn killed seven hostages, the state news agency reported.(AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)

    Two British hostages Peter, left, and Alan, right, (no family name available), are seen after being released, in a street of Ain Amenas, near the gas plant where they have been kidnapped by Islamic militants, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. Algeria's special forces stormed the natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert in a final assault Saturday, killing 11 militants, but not before they in turn killed seven hostages, the state news agency reported.(AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)

  • In this undated image made from video, a man looks out from a bus towards what appears to be smoke rising in the horizon at an unknown location in Algeria. An Algerian security official says de-mining squads searching for explosives found "numerous" bodies Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at a gas refinery where Islamic militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT

    In this undated image made from video, a man looks out from a bus towards what appears to be smoke rising in the horizon at an unknown location in Algeria. An Algerian security official says de-mining squads searching for explosives found "numerous" bodies Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at a gas refinery where Islamic militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT

  • Overseas Filipinos who were working at the sprawling oil field in Algeria which was attacked by terrorists, flash the "V" sign as they queue up at the Philippine Immigration upon arrival Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines. The Department of Foreign Affairs in their statement, said that 39 Filipino workers, out of the 52 accounted for following the Algerian hostage crisis, arrived after being evacuated from Algeria via Palma de Mallorca in Spain. The workers claimed they were hundreds of kilometers away from the hostage-taking site but ordered evacuated. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    Overseas Filipinos who were working at the sprawling oil field in Algeria which was attacked by terrorists, flash the "V" sign as they queue up at the Philippine Immigration upon arrival Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines. The Department of Foreign Affairs in their statement, said that 39 Filipino workers, out of the 52 accounted for following the Algerian hostage crisis, arrived after being evacuated from Algeria via Palma de Mallorca in Spain. The workers claimed they were hundreds of kilometers away from the hostage-taking site but ordered evacuated. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • In this image made from video, a group of people believed to be hostages kneel in the sand with their hands in the air at an unknown location in Algeria. Algerian de-mining teams were scouring a gas refinery on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 that was the scene of a bloody four-day standoff, searching for explosive traps left by the Islamist militants who took dozens of foreigners hostage. The siege left at least 23 captives dead, and the American government warned that there were credible threats of more kidnapping attempts on Westerners. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT

    In this image made from video, a group of people believed to be hostages kneel in the sand with their hands in the air at an unknown location in Algeria. Algerian de-mining teams were scouring a gas refinery on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 that was the scene of a bloody four-day standoff, searching for explosive traps left by the Islamist militants who took dozens of foreigners hostage. The siege left at least 23 captives dead, and the American government warned that there were credible threats of more kidnapping attempts on Westerners. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT

  • In this image made from video, a group of people believed to be hostages kneel in the sand with their hands in the air at an unknown location in Algeria. An Algerian security official says de-mining squads searching for explosives found "numerous" bodies Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at a gas refinery where Islamic militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT
  • In this undated photo, a man stands next to the body of an unidentified person near Ain Amenas, Algeria. Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found "numerous" new bodies on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 as they searched for explosive traps left behind by the attackers, a security official said, a day after a bloody raid ended the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery. (AP Photo/Echorouk Elyaoumi)
  • This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. Algerian officials scrambled Thursday Jan. 17, 2013 for a way to end an armed standoff deep in the Sahara desert with Islamic militants who have taken dozens of foreigners hostage, turning to tribal Algerian Tuareg leaders for talks and contemplating an international force. The group claiming responsibility — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — says it has captured 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in the surprise attack Wednesday on the Ain Amenas gas plant. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara.  (AP Photo/SITE Intel Group) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS PICTURE. MANDATORY CREDIT: SITE Intel Group
  • Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is embraced by Executive Vice President in Statoil, Margrethe Oevrum, Saturday Jan. 19,  2013, after his visit at the drop-in center in Bergen for relatives of the Statoil-employees taken hostage in Algeria. In a bloody finale on Saturday, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert to end a four-day standoff with Islamic extremists that left at least 19 hostages and 29 militants dead. With few details emerging from the remote site, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation. (AP Photo / Anette Karlsen, NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT
  • Two British hostages Peter, left, and Alan, right, (no family name available), are seen after being released, in a street of Ain Amenas, near the gas plant where they have been kidnapped by Islamic militants, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013. Algeria's special forces stormed the natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert in a final assault Saturday, killing 11 militants, but not before they in turn killed seven hostages, the state news agency reported.(AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)
  • In this undated image made from video, a man looks out from a bus towards what appears to be smoke rising in the horizon at an unknown location in Algeria. An Algerian security official says de-mining squads searching for explosives found "numerous" bodies Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at a gas refinery where Islamic militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT
  • Overseas Filipinos who were working at the sprawling oil field in Algeria which was attacked by terrorists, flash the "V" sign as they queue up at the Philippine Immigration upon arrival Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines. The Department of Foreign Affairs in their statement, said that 39 Filipino workers, out of the 52 accounted for following the Algerian hostage crisis, arrived after being evacuated from Algeria via Palma de Mallorca in Spain. The workers claimed they were hundreds of kilometers away from the hostage-taking site but ordered evacuated. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
  • In this image made from video, a group of people believed to be hostages kneel in the sand with their hands in the air at an unknown location in Algeria. Algerian de-mining teams were scouring a gas refinery on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 that was the scene of a bloody four-day standoff, searching for explosive traps left by the Islamist militants who took dozens of foreigners hostage. The siege left at least 23 captives dead, and the American government warned that there were credible threats of more kidnapping attempts on Westerners. (AP Photo/Ennahar TV) ALGERIA OUT, TV OUT

The death toll from the terrorist siege at a natural gas plant in the Sahara climbed past 80 yesterday as Algerian forces searching the refinery for explosives found dozens more bodies, many so badly disfigured it was unclear whether they were hostages or militants, a security official said.

Algerian special forces stormed the plant Saturday to end the four-day siege, moving in to thwart what government officials said was a plot by the Islamic extremists to blow up the complex and kill all their captives with mines sown throughout the site.

In a statement, the Masked Brigade, the group that claimed to have masterminded the takeover, warned of more such attacks against any country backing France’s military intervention in neighboring Mali, where the French are trying to stop an advance by Islamic extremists.

“We stress to our Muslim brothers the necessity to stay away from all the Western companies and complexes for their own safety, and especially the French ones,” the statement said.

Algeria said after Saturday’s assault by government forces that at least 32 extremists and 23 hostages were killed.

Yesterday, Algerian bomb squads sent in to blow up or defuse the explosives found 25 more bodies, said the security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

“These bodies are difficult to identify. They could be the bodies of foreign hostages or Algerians or terrorists,” the official said.

In addition, a wounded Romanian who had been evacuated died, raising the overall death toll to at least 81.

“Now, of course, people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

Three Britons were killed and another three were feared dead.

The dead hostages were also known to include at least one American as well as Filipino and French workers. Nearly two dozen foreigners by some estimates were unaccounted for.

It was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final assault on the complex, which is run by the Algerian state oil company along with BP and Norway’s Statoil.

Two private Algerian TV stations and an online news site said security forces scouring the plant found five militants hiding out and learned that three others had fled. That information could not be immediately confirmed by security officials.

Authorities said the bloody takeover was carried out Wednesday by 32 men from six countries, under the command from afar of the one-eyed Algerian bandit Moktar Belmoktar, founder of the Masked Brigade, based in Mali. The attacking force called itself “Those Who Sign in Blood.”

The Masked Brigade said yesterday the attack was payback against Algeria for allowing over-flights of French aircraft headed to Mali and for closing its long border with Mali.

In an earlier communication, the Brigade claimed to have carried out the attack in the name of al-Qaida.

Armed with heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades, the militants singled out foreign workers at the plant, killing some of them on the spot and attaching explosive belts to others.

Algeria’s tough and uncompromising response to the crisis was typical of its take-no-prisoners approach in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation. Algerian military forces, backed by attack helicopters, launched two assaults on the plant, the first one Thursday.

The militants had “decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages,” Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said told state radio.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said the terrorists had tried to blow up the plant Saturday but managed only to start a small fire.

“That’s when they started to execute hostages, and the special forces intervened,” Eide said. Norway’s Statoil said five Norwegians were still missing.

The Algerians’ use of force raised an international outcry from some countries worried about their citizens.

But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday on French television: “The terrorists
. . . they’re the ones to blame.”

David Plouffe, a senior adviser to President Obama, said that al-Qaida and al-Qaida-affiliated groups remain a threat in North Africa and other parts of the world, and that the U.S. is determined to help other countries destroy those networks.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Plouffe said the tragedy in Algeria shows once again “that all across the globe countries are threatened by terrorists who will use civilians to try and advance their twisted and sick agenda.”

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