WASHINGTON President Barack Obama offered on Saturday to provide any assistance the Algerian government needs after a deadly hostage siege at a desert gas plant and said the United States was seeking a "fuller understanding" from Algerian authorities of what took place there.
"The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the families of all those who were killed and injured in the terrorist attack in Algeria," Obama said in his first comments on the hostage crisis.
Obama's written statement was issued by the White House after the Algerian army carried out a dramatic final assault to end a siege by Islamist militants in which 23 hostages were killed, many of them believed to be foreigners.
The statement made no mention of Americans who were caught up in the hostage crisis. One American has been confirmed dead, and a source close to the crisis said two Americans were among those freed as the Algerian army closed in.
Some Western governments had expressed frustration at not being informed of the Algerian authorities' plans to storm the remote complex, but U.S. officials had remained cautious in their comments as the situation unfolded.
"The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out," Obama said. "We have been in constant contact with Algerian officials and stand ready to provide whatever assistance they need in the aftermath of this attack."
"We also will continue to work closely with all of our partners to combat the scourge of terrorism in the region," he added.
"This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa," Obama said. "In the coming days, we will remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future."
Obama, who takes the official oath of office on Sunday for a second term at the White House and will then be sworn in again publicly on Monday, juggled inauguration preparations and briefings from his national security aides on the hostage situation in Algeria.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney)