OTTAWA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Canadian police are in Algeria looking for evidence that Canadian citizens were involved in last week’s attack and hostage-taking at a desert gas plant, a government official said on Thursday.
Around 70 people died when Algerian troops stormed the plant and ended the siege on Sunday. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said a Canadian gunman, identified only as “Chedad,” had coordinated the operation.
“I can confirm that they are on the ground,” the official told Reuters when asked whether members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were in Algeria.
The official declined to give more details. A spokeswoman for the Mounties said she could not comment.
On Tuesday Canada said diplomats were in Algeria seeking evidence that Canadians were involved.
One European official and one former senior European counter-terrorism official said they understood there was information confirming that at least one Canadian was among the hostage takers.
Ottawa says it has received no proof from Algerian authorities that this was the case.
But the European sources said they did not believe the initial Algerian claim that a Canadian may have served as leader of the militants who took the hostages.
One of the European sources said multiple survivors of the incident reported one of the militants spoke English with either an English or North American accent.
European officials said it was highly unlikely that a British person was among the attackers.
Canadians suspected of ties to North African Islamic militants historically have come from French-speaking Quebec, not from English-speaking Canadian provinces. (Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Xavier Briand)