By Julian Pecquet - 01/17/13 03:49 PM EST
Militants claimed Thursday that 35 hostages had been killed in an Algerian air strike on a natural-gas facility — and that two Americans remained captive.
Reuters, however, reported that only six hostages and eight militants were killed in a strike on one of their vehicles, citing one unnamed source near the action.
A spokesman for the al Qaeda-linked hostage takers told Mauritania's ANI press agency that the remaining captives include two Americans. The hostages have been made to wear explosive belts, a French hostage reportedly told the France 24 television station.
It remains unclear if any Americans were killed when Algerian air forces attacked the holed-up militants Thursday. Reports say anywhere from six to 35 hostages, as well as several militants, might have been killed when Algerian forces fired on vehicles transporting them between locations at the remote natural-gas facility near the border with Libya.
The militants have vowed to kill their remaining captives if Algerian forces try to rescue them. In addition to the two Americans, they are still holding three Belgians as well as one Japanese and one British citizen, their spokesman told the Agence Nouakchott d'Information. One British citizen and another hostage are believed to have died during the initial attack on the facility.
The Islamists said Wednesday they had captured seven Americans alongside 34 Westerners and Japanese, but as many as 20 of them reportedly managed to escape. Meanwhile, the Algerie Press Service is reporting that the Algerian army has freed two Britons, a Frenchman and a Kenyan, but it's not clear if they are among the group of 20 escapees.
BP, a part-owner of the facility, released a statement Thursday saying it had “been informed by the U.K. and Algerian governments that the Algerian army is attempting to take control of the In Amenas site.”
“The situation remains unclear and we continue to seek updates from the authorities,” BP said. “Sadly, there have been some reports of casualties, but we are still lacking any confirmed or reliable information. There are also reports of hostages being released or escaping.”
Two al Qaeda-linked groups have claimed responsibility for the seizure of the facility. They are demanding that the French halt their U.S.-backed intervention against Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.
Separately, Algerian neighbor Morocco said Thursday that it has put its security forces on high alert amid fears that the violence could extend there.