Prime Minister David Cameron said as many as six British nationals and a U.K. resident may have been killed at the hostage crisis at a gas plant in southeastern Algeria that ended yesterday.
“Tragically, we now know that three British nationals have been killed and a further three are believed to be dead, and a further British resident is also believed to be dead,” Cameron said in comments broadcast on U.K. television stations today. The remaining 22 Britons involved are now back in the U.K., Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
The prime minister called for a “global response” to what he called a “stark reminder” of the threat of terrorism in North Africa. The Algerian government said 23 hostages and 32 terrorists died during the four-day standoff, while Algerian forces freed 107 foreigners and 685 Algerian workers.
“It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months, and it requires a response that is patient, that is painstaking, that is tough but also intelligent, but above all has an absolutely iron resolve,” Cameron said from his country residence at Chequers, northwest of London. He said he’ll use Britain’s chairmanship of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations this year “to make sure this issue is right at the top of the agenda.”
The U.K. must “work with others to defeat the terrorists and to close down the ungoverned space where they thrive with all the means that we have,” the premier said. “What we face is an extremist Islamist violent al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, just as we have to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.”
Cameron refused to criticize the Algerian government for its response to the hostage-taking. He has said he was “disappointed” that Algerian authorities started a first military operation to end the crisis at the plant, operated by London-based BP Plc, Statoil SAS of Norway and Algeria’s Sonatrach, without informing him.
Hague told BBC television it’s possible the dead hostages may have been executed before the rescue attempt.
“That sort of thing is quite likely to have happened,” he said. “I think from the nature of the terrorists involved, the nature of the captivity they imposed on the hostages. And of course the Algerian forces, although sometimes criticized, will have taken every care they could to save life.”
The premier said that “no one should underestimate the difficulties of responding to an attack on this scale with 30 terrorists absolutely determined to take lives, and we should recognize all that the Algerians have done to work with us and to help and coordinate with us.” He pointed out that the Algerian forces had also suffered casualties.
“We should just say very clearly the responsibility for loss of life lies with the terrorists,” he said. “They launched this vicious, this cowardly attack and they wanted to take lives.”