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DAKAR (Reuters) - The al Qaeda-linked group that claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping at a desert gas complex in Algeria said on Friday it would carry out more operations, Mauritania's ANI news agency said, citing a spokesman for the hostage-takers.
The member of the Mulathameen brigade, whose name means "The Masked Ones", warned Algerians to "stay away from the installations of foreign companies as we will strike where it is least expected," ANI said.
It was not immediately possible to verify the report but ANI has close links to the group, led by Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and of Algeria's civil war dubbed 'Mr. Marlboro' for his involvement in smuggling in the lawless Sahara [ID:nL6N0AMCX6].
At least 22 foreign hostages remained unaccounted for on Friday. A local source said the gas facility, operated by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state oil firm, was still surrounded by Algerian special forces and some hostages remained inside.
The Mulathameen spokesman said the group had prepared the attack for nearly two months in reprisal for international efforts to oust Islamist groups from northern Mali, ANI reported.
"We knew that the (Algerian) government was going to ally itself with France in the war against Azawad," the spokesman said, using the name rebels in north Mali have given their desert enclave.
An al Qaeda-linked alliance seized control of the vast area, twice the size of Texas, last year. France launched air strikes against the rebels a week ago to halt their southward advance toward the capital Bamako, kick-starting a U.N.-mandated intervention supposed to be led by African states.
"While taking account of the sufferings of the Algerian people, we promise more operations against the regime in place," the spokesman said, according to ANI.
Reporting By Daniel Flynn; Editing by Janet Lawrence