Algeria Surrounding Oil Facility Where Hostages Held

Algerian security forces are surrounding an oil facility in the country’s south after attackers seized several workers, as French troops began a ground offensive against insurgents in neighboring Mali.

The gunmen earlier infiltrated the facility, according to an official with the state-run oil company Sonatrach, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. The attack began at 4:30 a.m. local time, the state-run Algerian Press Service reported. A security guard was killed and seven people, including two foreigners, were wounded, the agency said.

A “security incident” took place at the facility, a wet-gas field, operated by a joint venture of BP Plc, Statoil ASA of Norway and Sonatrach that’s in the region of the In Amenas field, about 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) from Algiers, BP said in an e-mailed statement. It offered no further details. The field, in Algeria’s southeast, is close to the Libyan border.

Algeria’s frontier with Mali was closed on Jan. 14, three days after the first French air attacks against Islamist rebels. While the insurgents include jihadists such as Ansar ud-Din and al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate, there are also ethnic Touareg fighters seeking greater autonomy in the region.

BP said it’s setting up a helpline for relatives, without immediately providing further details. Statoil also confirmed that an incident had taken place.

‘Terrorist Incident’

At least eight foreigners have been kidnapped, an Algerian security official told the Associated Press, including British, Norwegian and Japanese nationals.

The Irish government said in an e-mailed statement that one of its citizens was among a group of oil workers taken by unidentified kidnappers.

The British Foreign Office said that “a terrorist incident is ongoing” at an oil installation and that British citizens are working in the area. Statoil said on its website that it had about 20 employees at the facility, including more than 10 Norwegians.

At least some of the people taken in Algeria were employed by JGC Corp., the principal contractor of the field along with Kellogg, Brown & Root LLC. JGC is investigating the situation, NHK reported.

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