34 hostages, 15 kidnappers killed in Algeria raid

London, Jan 17 (IANS) Algerian army helicopters Thursday fired at a petroleum facility where over 40 Western hostages were being held, leaving at least 34 hostages and 15 kidnappers dead, media reports said.

The British Petroleum (BP) natural gas field is in Ain Amenas in Illizi province, around 60 km from the Libyan border, reports said.

Mauritania's ANI news agency said a spokesman for the kidnappers said in a statement that two Japanese hostages were seriously injured, without giving further details on the extent of the injuries.

He, however, warned that the fighters of the "Battalion of Blood", the group that has kidnapped the hostages, "will kill the hostages if the Algerian army continues with its raids", Xinhua reported.

BBC said militants told Mauritania's ANI news agency that seven foreign hostages were still alive after the military raid.

Four foreign hostages were freed during the operation, Algeria's state news agency APS reported.

The militants earlier said they were holding 41 foreign nationals, including Americans, French, British, Norwegian and Japanese workers.

Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia earlier said the kidnappers were Algerian and operating under orders from Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former commander of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

A statement purported to be from the hostage-takers called for an end to the French military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighbouring Mali.

Algeria allowed France to use its airspace during its operation against Islamist militants who occupied northern Mali last year. The French operation began Friday.

Statoil, the Norwegian oil group sharing the plant with BP, has 12 employees involved in the situation.

Washington and Tokyo have said their nationals were among the hostage, but French President Francois Hollande said he was not certain that French citizens were being held.

French news channel France 24 said Malaysian and Filipino nationals were also among the hostages.

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