* Thirty hostages, at least seven foreign, killed - source
* More than 20 foreigners still held or missing on Friday
* Western governments not consulted, Algiers faces questions
* 10 Japanese, 8 Norwegians, "less than 30" Britons at risk
By Lamine Chikhi and Abdelaziz Boumzar
ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria, Jan 18 More than 20
foreigners were still either being held hostage or missing
inside a gas plant on Friday after Algerian forces stormed the
desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist
More than a day after the Algerian army launched an assault
to seize the remote desert compound, much was still unclear
about the number and fate of the victims, leaving countries with
citizens in harm's way struggling to find hard information.
Reports on the number of hostages killed ranged from 12 to
30, with anywhere from dozens to scores of foreigners still
Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, eight of whose
countrymen were missing, said fighters still controlled the gas
treatment plant itself, while Algerian forces now held the
nearby residential compound that housed hundred of workers.
Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries expressed
frustration that the assault had been ordered without
consultation. Many countries were also withholding information
about their citizens to avoid helping the captors.
Night fell quietly on the village of In Amenas, the nearest
settlement, some 50 km (30 miles) from the vast and remote
desert plant. A military helicopter could be seen in the sky.
An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at
least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday's
assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the
dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest
of the dead still unclear, he said.
Algeria's state news agency APS put the total number of dead
hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.
Norway's Stoltenberg said some of those killed in vehicles
blasted by the army could not be identified. "We must be
prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope."
Northern Irish engineer Stephen McFaul, who survived, said
he saw four trucks full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops.
The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis
mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern
Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week
fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.
"We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation
where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one
part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another
part," British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.
A local Algerian source said 100 of 132 foreign hostages had
been freed from the facility. However, other estimates of the
number of unaccounted-for foreigners were higher. Earlier the
same source said 60 were still missing. Some may be held
hostage; others may still be hiding in the sprawling compound.
Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among
the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming, the
Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was
killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.
Those still unaccounted for on Friday included 10 from Japan
and eight Norwegians, according to their employers, and a number
of Britons which Cameron put at "significantly" less than 30
France said it had no information on two Frenchmen who may
have been at the site and Washington has said a number of
Americans were among the hostages, without giving details. The
local source said a U.S. aircraft landed nearby on Friday.
The attackers had initially claimed to be holding 41 Western
hostages. Some Westerners were able to evade capture by hiding.
They lived among hundreds of Algerian employees on the
compound. The state news agency said the army had rescued 650
hostages in total, 573 of whom were Algerians.
"(The army) is still trying to achieve a 'peaceful outcome'
before neutralising the terrorist group that is holed up in the
(facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being
held," it said, quoting a security source.
Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30
hours after the siege began, because the gunmen had demanded to
be allowed to take their captives abroad.
A French hostage employed by a French catering company said
he had hidden in his room for 40 hours under the bed, relying on
Algerian employees to smuggle him food with a password.
"I put boards up pretty much all round," Alexandre Berceaux
told Europe 1 radio. "I didn't know how long I was going to stay
there ... I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up in
a pine box."
The captors said their attack was a response to a French
military offensive in neighbouring Mali. However, some U.S. and
European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too
much planning to have been organised from scratch in the single
week since France first launched its strikes.
Paris says the incident proves that its decision to fight
Islamists in neighbouring Mali was necessary.
Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara
desert has long been a pre-occupation of the West. Smugglers and
militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.
The most powerful Islamist groups in the Sahara were
severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in a civil
war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of
Al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war
in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.
Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and
Libya, took control of northern Mali last year, prompting the
French intervention in that poor African former colony.
The Algerian security source said only two of 11 militants
whose bodies were found on Thursday were Algerian, including the
squad's leader. The others comprised three Egyptians, two
Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman, he said.
The plant was heavily fortified, with security, controlled
access and an army camp with hundreds of armed personnel between
the accommodation and processing plant, Andy Coward Honeywell,
who worked there in 2009, told the BBC.
The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from
the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which
produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria
depends for its export income, has raised questions over the
value of outwardly tough security measures.
Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside
help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site.
The attackers benefitted from bases and staging grounds across
the nearby border in Libya's desert, Algerian officials said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those respsonsible
would be hunted down: "Terrorists should be on notice that they
will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North
Africa, not anywhere.... Those who would wantonly attack our
country and our people will have no place to hide."
WARNING OF MORE ATTACKS
The kidnappers threatened more attacks and warned Algerians
to stay away from foreign companies' installations, according to
Mauritania's news agency ANI, which maintained contact with the
group during the siege.
Hundreds of workers from international oil companies were
evacuated from Algeria on Thursday and many more will follow,
said BP, which jointly ran the gas plant with Norway's Statoil
and the Algerian state oil firm.
The overall commander of the kidnappers, Algerian officials
said, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed veteran of Afghanistan
in the 1980s and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s. He
appears not to have been present.
Algerian security specialist Anis Rahmani, author of several
books on terrorism and editor of Ennahar daily, told Reuters
about 70 militants were involved from two groups, Belmokhtar's
"Those who sign in blood", who travelled from Libya, and the
lesser known "Movement of the Islamic Youth in the South".
Britain's Cameron, who warned people to prepare for bad news
and who cancelled a major policy speech on Friday to deal with
the situation, said he would have liked Algeria to have
consulted before the raid. Japan made similar complaints.
U.S. officials had no clear information on the fate of
Americans. Washington, like its European allies, has endorsed
France's military intervention in Mali.