Report: 20 hostages escape from Islamist captors in Algeria

Several Americans are among the foreign hostages who have escaped their al Qaeda-linked captors at an Algerian natural-gas facility, The Associated Press reported Thursday morning.

The report cited an Algerian security official who said that at least 20 hostages, including some American citizens and European nationals, were among those who escaped. It is unclear how many remain captive.

The hostages were taken when Islamic militants attacked the plant in eastern Algeria early Wednesday.

Reports said that the Algerian government was in talks throughout the night with its counterparts in France and the United States on a possible intervention.

The White House has condemned the al Qaeda attack, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta vowed Wednesday to take “all necessary and proper steps” to end the standoff.

The captors are demanding an end to the U.S.-backed French intervention against Islamists in northern Mali. They have said they will blow up the facility if they come under attack, and a French hostage told the France 24 television station that some foreign hostages had been forced to wear explosive belts.

The Mauritanian press agency ANI reported Thursday that the oil facility was bombed by an Algerian helicopter.

The White House has confirmed that Americans were being held hostage by the al Qaeda-linked rebels, but has given no number. The Islamists also took hostages from Britain, Norway, Japan, Ireland and Malaysia, as well as several hundred local Algerian workers, although many have been released.