Algeria-Al-Qaida is alive and well-We went in with our guns blazing on two occassions-Everything in the complex had bombs attached-19 dead
The entire refinery was mined with explosives and set to blow up, the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach said in a statement, adding that the process of clearing the explosives had begun. The Algerian media reported that the militants had planned to blow up the complex.
The siege transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world.
Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of the country's history in confronting terrorists _ military action over negotiation _ and caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent negotiation _ first on Thursday and then on Saturday.
The latest deaths bring the official Algerian tally of dead to 19 hostages and 29 militants, although reports on the number of dead, injured and freed have been contradictory throughout the crisis. Militants originally said they had seized 41 foreign hostages.
The al-Qaida-linked militants attacked the plant Wednesday morning. They crept across the border from Libya, 60 miles (100 kilometers) away, and fell on a pair of buses taking foreign workers to the airport. The buses' military escort drove off the attackers in a blaze of gunfire that sent bullets zinging over the heads of crouching workers. A Briton and an Algerian _ probably a security guard _ were killed.
Frustrated, the militants turned to the vast gas complex, divided between the workers' living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages, the Algerian government said. The gas flowing to the site was cut off.
On Thursday, Algerian helicopters opened fire on a convoy carrying both kidnappers and their hostages, resulting in many deaths, according to witnesses.
In their final communications, the militants said they were holding seven hostages: three Belgian, two Americans, a Japanese and a Briton. They had threatened to kill them if the Algerian army attacked.
Algerian authorities estimated that about 30 militants occupied the Ain Amenas site Wednesday and with 18 already reported dead, it appeared Saturday that the hostage crisis was finally over.
The standoff has put the spotlight on al-Qaida-linked groups that roam remote areas of the Sahara, threatening vital infrastructure and energy interests. The militants initially said their operation was intended to stop a French attack on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali _ though they later said it was two months in the planning, long before the French intervention.
The accounts of hostages who escaped the complex highlight the cavalier attitude toward their lives taken by both kidnappers and the military.
Ruben Andrada, 49, a Filipino civil engineer who works as one of the project management staff for the Japanese company JGC Corp., described how Algerian helicopter gunships had earlier opened fire on vehicles carrying hostages and the gunmen who used them as shields.
On Thursday, about 35 hostages guarded by 15 militants were loaded into seven SUVs in a convoy to move them from the housing complex to the refinery, Andrada said. The militants placed "an explosive cord" around their necks and were told it would detonate if they tried to run away, he said.
"When we left the compound, there was shooting all around," Andrada said, describing the helicopters' attack. "I closed my eyes. We were going around in the desert. To me, I left it all to fate."
Andrada said when the vehicle he was in overturned, some of the passengers were able to escape. He sustained cuts and bruises and was grazed by a bullet on his right elbow. He later saw the blasted remains of other vehicles, and the severed leg of one of the gunmen.