ALGIERS — Algerian troops found the bodies of 25 hostages at a bomb-littered gas plant in the Sahara Desert on Sunday, a day after the soldiers ended a four-day siege, a security source said. The discovery raised the death toll of Islamist militants and their captives to at least 80.
Around 30 foreigners, including American, British, French, Japanese, Norwegian, and Romanian citizens, are among those missing or confirmed dead after the siege, one of the worst international hostage crises in decades.
The security source said the search was not over, and more bodies could be found. He said six militants were captured alive, including two found hiding on Sunday. Soldiers were searching for others. Earlier, the authorities had said all the fighters had been killed.
Among foreigners confirmed dead by their home countries were three Britons, one American, and two Romanians. The missing include at least 10 Japanese, five Norwegians, three Britons, and a British resident. The security source said at least one Frenchman was also among the dead.
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal is expected to release more details today.
The veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. “We in al-Qaeda announce this blessed operation,” he said in a video, according to Sahara Media, a regional Web site. He said about 40 attackers had participated in the raid, roughly matching Algeria’s figures for fighters killed and captured.
The fighters swooped out of the desert Wednesday and captured the plant, which produces 10 percent of Algeria’s natural gas exports, as well as a nearby residential barracks.
The militants demanded an end to French airstrikes against Islamist fighters in Mali that had begun five days earlier. U.S. and European officials doubt such a raid could have been organized quickly enough to have been conceived as a direct response to France’s military intervention.
Nearly 700 Algerian workers and more than 100 foreigners escaped, mainly on Thursday when the fighters were driven from the barracks. Some captors stayed in the complex until being overrun on Saturday.
Algeria is determined to press on with its energy industry. Oil Minister Youcef Yousfi visited the site and said physical damage was minor, state news service APS reported. The plant will restart in two days, he said.