By Ruth Holmes (AFP) – ANI is reporting that the hostage-takers want to negotiate an end to French intervention in Mali and exchange American hostages for prisoners held in the United States.
Sources close to their leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, say he has proposed that France and Algeria negotiate “an end to the war being waged by France in Azawad” (northern Mali), the news agency says. In a video message Belmokhtar proposes “exchanging American hostages held by his group (the ‘Signatories in Blood’) for Egyptian Omar Abdelrahman and Pakistani Afiah Sidiqi, jailed in the United States on charges of terrorist links”.
Algerian troops are still trying to free an unknown number of foreigners held in different parts of the complex, APS reports. “(The army) is trying to reach a peaceful solution before neutralising the terrorist group that is holed up in the plant and freeing a group of hostages still being held there.”
Britain has sent a Boeing 757 with a FCO consular team on board, including trauma experts, which has landed in the last hour in Hassi Messaoud in eastern Algeria, some 280 miles from the hostage site. “It has landed in the last hour. It has a rapid deployment team onboard including experts in dealing with people who’ve been through traumatic situations. They are on standby if needed,” a Foreign Office spokesman said. He refused to speculate about who else might be on board, or whether it might be used to bring back British hostages.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) earlier warned that the hostage-taking could have serious consequences for Algeria’s energy sector as Islamists threatened further attacks. “The 16 January kidnapping and murder of foreign oil workers at the In Amenas gas field has cast a dark cloud over the outlook for the country’s energy sector,” the IEA said. “Production at the field was shut in, including an estimated 50,000 barrels per day of condensate.”