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Frederick Buttaccio Dead: One American Has Died In Algeria Hostage Crisis, U.S. Officials Say

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ALGERIA HOSTAGE CRISIS
An Algerian military truck drives past a road sign indicating the city of Ain Amenas where hostages have been kidnapped by islamic militants at a gas plant , Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 The hostage crisis in the remote desert of Algeria is not over, Britain said Friday, after an Algerian raid on the gas plant to wipe out Islamist militants and free their captives from at least 10 countries unleashed bloody chaos. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul) | AP
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WASHINGTON — One American worker at a natural gas complex in Algeria has been found dead, U.S. officials said Friday as the Obama administration sought to secure the release of Americans still being held by militants on the third day of the hostage standoff in the Sahara.

How Frederick Buttaccio, a Texas resident, died was not noted in a statement from State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. A spokesman for the Buttaccio family in the Houston suburb of Katy, Texas, declined to comment.

"We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends," Nuland said. "Out of respect for the family's privacy, we have no further comment."

It was not immediately clear whether Buttaccio was the only American killed in the hostage standoff.

U.S. officials told The Associated Press that Buttaccio's remains were recovered Friday. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she spoke by telephone with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal to get an update on Americans and others in danger at the sprawling Ain Amenas refinery 800 miles south of Algiers. She said the "utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life."

Clinton talked to reporters after the Obama administration confirmed that Americans were still being held hostage, even as some U.S. citizens were being flown out of the country for recovery in Europe. The Algerian state news agency reported that 12 hostages had been killed since Wednesday's start of an Algerian rescue operation, and world leaders steadily increased their criticism of the North African country's handling of the attack.

Clinton, however, defended Algeria's action. "Let's not forget: This is an act of terror," she told reporters in Washington. "The perpetrators are the terrorists. They are the ones who have assaulted this facility, have taken hostage Algerians and others from around the world as they were going about their daily business."

Earlier Friday, Algeria's state news service reported that nearly 100 of the 132 foreign workers kidnapped by Islamic militants were free. That number of hostages at the remote desert facility was significantly higher than any previous report, but questions remained about the fate of more than 30 other foreign energy workers.

BP evacuated one American, along with other foreign workers, to Mallorca, Spain, and then to London. And an American official said a U.S. military C-130 flew a group of people, including some lightly wounded or injured, from Algiers to a U.S. facility in Europe on Friday. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and requested anonymity.

In London, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with British Prime Minister David Cameron at No. 10 Downing St. to assess their governments' understandings of the situation. At King's College, Panetta said the U.S. is "working around the clock to ensure the safe return of our citizens" and that terrorists should be on notice they will find no sanctuary in Algeria or North Africa.

The White House said President Barack Obama was being briefed Friday by his national security team. His top aides were in touch with Algerian officials as well as BP's security office in London. BP jointly operates the natural gas plant.

U.S. officials have refused to confirm the number of Americans still captive or unaccounted for because they say that might compromise their safety.

Still, the U.S. flatly rejected an offer by the militants – led by a Mali-based al-Qaida offshoot known as the Masked Brigade – to free two American hostages in exchange for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind sheikh convicted of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks and considered the spiritual leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist convicted of shooting at two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Both are jailed in the United States.

"The United States does not negotiate with terrorists," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

The desert siege began Wednesday when the militants attempted to hijack two buses at the plant, were repelled, and then seized the gas refinery. They said the attack was retaliation for France's recent military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighboring Mali, but security experts argue it must have taken weeks of planning to hit the remote site.

Since then, Algeria's government has kept a tight grip on information about the siege.

Clinton stressed that American officials would stay in close contact with their Algerian counterparts. Sellal, she said, made clear that the Algerian operation against the militants "was still ongoing, that the situation remained fluid, that the hostages remain in danger in a number of instances."

Speaking beside Japan's new foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, Clinton said the crisis underscored the threat posed by extremists in North Africa, where al-Qaida-linked militants have seized control of half of Mali and plunged the country into civil war. She vowed to enhance U.S. work with Algeria and other countries in the region to combat terrorists even after the hostage situation ends.

"It is absolutely essential that as we work to resolve this particular terrible situation, we continue to broaden and deepen our counterterrorism cooperation," Clinton said. "We will not rest until we do as much as we can ... to restore security to this vital region, and to bring those who would terrorize and kill innocent people to justice."

___

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in London, Robert Burns in Washington and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston contributed to this report.

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According to NBC News, U.S. officials have confirmed that the total number of Americans taken hostage on Wednesday was five. Of those, one was confirmed dead: Frederick Buttaccio of Texas. Two others managed to escape during Thursday's raid, while the remaining two are believed to be still in captivity. The militants had extended an offer to the U.S. to exchange two hostages for two jailed jihadists, which would account for the missing Americans.

The AP reported earlier that U.S. officials were refusing to disclose the exact number of remaining captives for fear that it might compromise their safety.

Read more at NBC News.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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The Huffington Post's Hunter Stuart has written a profile on the man known as "Mr. Marlboro," believed to be behind the attack in Algeria.

Called "The Uncatchable" by French intelligence, Belmokhtar is known to locals as more of a businessman than a terrorist, having consolidated his power by being a benefactor to the region's poor desert people.

Stuart writes:

Until recently, Belmokhtar was a senior commander for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but split from the group last year to form his own militia, called Those Who Sign With Blood.

The group's ability to take over such a high-profile target as the In Amenas gas plant, and to hold captive such a large number of hostages, illustrates its power and dexterity in the region.

To read the entire profile, click here.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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17-year-old Abdullah Abdallah Ould Hmeïda has been identified by Mauritanian news agency Sahara as one of the al Qaeda-affiliated militants who laid siege on the gas plant in the Algerian desert. Ould Hmeïda, who joined the group at age 14, was killed in the Algerian military's rescue operation yesterday.

--Shirin Barghi

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The Guardian spoke to an Algerian oil worker who has since been freed from the gas plant. He provided harrowing details of the terrorists' actions and the subsequent raid by Algerian forces.

At 10am on Thursday, when the Algerian army assault began, he said he heard "explosions, shots, bombing and women's screams". Then the hostage-takers told local workers: "Algerian brothers, don't be afraid, go in peace, you're going to go home, we're your brothers, we're all Muslim." One American hostage who had been with his Algerian colleagues was wounded after a fall, another was shot by a militant. "I don't know if they'd seen he was American or if they were afraid when he moved," he said. The American did not die immediately, he said, but he understood the man had since died.

The State Department has confirmed the death of one American, reported by the AP to be Frederick Buttaccio from Texas. It is unclear whether Buttacio is the hostage described above.

To read the rest of the first-hand account, visit the Guardian.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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A new Gallup poll reveals that Algerian approval of U.S. leadership has sunk to its lowest level since 2009, when Obama took office. In 2012, 68% of Algerians disapproved of U.S. leadership, rivaling the 71% rating received by the government under the Bush administration in 2008.

Algerians' disapproval of U.S. leadership is now among the highest in the world, behind only Pakistan and the Palestinian Territories. As news of the hostage crisis in Algeria -- involving Americans among other foreigners -- continues to unfold, the data show that the U.S. may need to tread carefully in its handling of the situation. While it is unclear at this point how Algerians feel about the terrorists' actions, it is clear that the large majority of Algerians were disgruntled with U.S. leadership before this crisis and thus may be leery of any action the U.S. might take.

To see the full report, visit Gallup.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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Al Arabiya English is reporting a massive fire at the In Amenas oil facility.

@ AlArabiya_Eng : #BreakingNews: Reports of massive blaze in Algeria gas plant where hostages were held http://t.co/XxyjLaX6

--Eline Gordts

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French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced on Friday that at least one Frenchman was killed during the hostage crisis in Algeria. "The Algerian authorities have just informed us that one of our compatriots, Mr. Yann Desjeux, unfortunately lost his life during the operation to free hostages," Fabius said in a statement, according to Reuters. "The lives of three others of our compatriots who were on the site during the terrorist attack have been saved," he added.

--Eline Gordts

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Per the AP, the American hostage who has died in Algeria is Frederick Buttaccio from Texas. How he died remains unclear.

To read more, click here.

--Eline Gordts

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The AP reports that Americans are still being held hostage, though the exact number remains unclear. After receiving an update from Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, Secretary Clinton stressed that the "utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life."

Read more from the AP.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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In the Jan. 11 episode of The World This Week on France 24, Paris Match's Régis Le Sommier connected the dots between Mali and Libya, stating that the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi paved the way for the militant resistance in Mali.

"Libya has given these people a number of weapons, there's been an outflow of weapons toward these people. They have gathered in central Mali, they've created the conditions for a new tribal zone over there, bringing back some threats directly toward Europe from this region," Le Sommier said. "What have we left in Libya? What is the state of Libya now? Not that I worship Gaddafi, but weren't we much better off when Gaddafi was there?"

A number of the kidnappers and arms used in the Algeria attack are believed to have come from Libya.

Watch the clip below:

For the full episode of The World This Week, click here.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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Le Figaro reports that Secretary Clinton stated that the hostages are "still in danger" and that the situation is "extremely difficult."

--Cosima Ungaro

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The AP writes:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is telling Algeria to do everything possible to protect hostages as it seeks to free them from militants at a natural gas complex in the Sahara.

Clinton says that in her conversation Friday with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, she underscored that "the utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life."

The State Department says Americans are still being held hostage, and world leaders have criticized Algeria for its handling of the attack.

Clinton did not criticize the North African country.

The attack, she says, was an "act of terror." She also vows greater U.S.-Algerian counterterrorism cooperation in future.

--Eline Gordts

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According to French newspaper Le Figaro, Laurent Fabius, France interior minister was informed by Algerian authorities that a French citizen had been killed during the rescue operation in In Amemas. Three others who were present during the hostage crisis are safe.

--Cosima Ungaro

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The Telegraph's Richard Spencer writes that the continued relationship between Algeria and Russia explains why the Algerian government was willing to conduct a raid that may have put the captives in danger.

The Algerian assault on the In Amenas gas facility appears to have followed the Russian model. It may be no coincidence that Algeria, long allied to the Soviet bloc, still relies on Russia for both weapons and special forces military training.

...

The relationship with the Russian armed forces, who sacrificed countless civilian lives in wars against Islamists and separatists first in Afghanistan and later in Chechnya, continues despite Algeria's growing closeness to the West.

French analysts said the Algerian force given responsibility was the "Special Intervention Group", a force dating back to a now disbanded unit employed to brutal effect in the civil war. It would have regarded any escape by the militants as especially humiliating.

Read more at the Telegraph.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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According to HuffPost France, Islamist sources including members of the Signed-In-Blood battalion revealed to the Mauritanian agency ANI that the kidnappers are still holding seven foreign hostages. According to the same source, there are three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and one British.

The AP has received confirmation from the State Department that Americans are still being held captive.

--Cosima Ungaro

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From the AP:

@ AP : BREAKING: State Department confirms Americans still being held hostage in Algeria.

--Eline Gordts

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Google/GeoEye has some incredible photos of the In Amenas oil facility, taken from Google Earth on September 10, 2012.

google geoeye in amenas september 2012 1

google geoeye in amenas september 2012 2

google geoeye in amenas september 2012 3

(Images courtesy of Google/GeoEye)

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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The Canadian government has confirmed that they are aware of reports stating that one of the hostage-takers is a Canadian national, reports Global National.

@ GlobalNational : Canadian gov't confirms they are aware of reports that a Canadian is among the hostage-takers in #Algeria: http://t.co/wiKUb8hC

Watch the report here.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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From the AP:

Algeria's state news agency says 12 hostages have been killed since the start of the operation to free workers kidnapped by Islamic militants at a natural gas plant in the Sahara.

The APS news agency quotes an unidentified security source for the new death toll and says the fatalities include both Algerian and foreign workers at the remote desert facility.

Read more here.

-- Eline Gordts

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A U.S. official said that one American hostage in Algeria is believed dead and four others alive, CBS news reports.

CBS:

The medical condition of the four survivors is not known. Of the five Americans present at the facility, three had been taken hostage and two others successfully remained hidden in the complex, the official said. Five others escaped before the militants took over the plant.

Read the full report here.

-- Eline Gordts

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According to French newspaper Le Monde, Norway still hasn't heard anything from its eight citizens in the gas plant. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg declared in a press conference today: "As this weekend approaches, the nation needs to be prepared to receive bad news."

--Cosima Ungaro

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With al Qaeda-affiliated militants threatening to attack new installations in north Africa, energy firms in Egypt and Libya are taking extra measures to boost oilfield security.

"Due to events in the region, the Petroleum Faculty Guard has taken a series of actions to enhance and reinforce the protection of oilfields, facilities and employees in the western and southern regions of Libya," said a statement by the Libyan oil protection force, according to Reuters.

--Shirin Barghi

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According to a Gallup poll posted today, the majority of Malians support the implementation of Sharia law to some extent, but do not agree with the Islamist militants' view that Sharia be the only source of legislation.

The poll also found that Malians' confidence in their government had plummeted in 2012, before rebel aggression forced France to intervene. "Malians' growing dissatisfaction with their government may point to support in the country for these foreign efforts and a return to what was before the military coup in March 2012," the report says.

Read the whole report at Gallup.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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NBC News correspondent Michelle Kosinski spoke to a terrorism analyst with FBI experience who warned of the possibility of similar attacks from other groups inspired by the crisis in Algeria.

"[Militant groups' are all vying for attention -- for fighters, for financing. They see this, they see the attention it gets," he said.

Read more at NBC News.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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Norwegian journalist and Sky News reporter Trygve Sorvaag notes that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is leading an effort to airlift foreign evacuees to Europe.

@ TrygveSorvaag : "We are working to establish an international airlift for evacuees from #Algeria to Europe" says Norwegian PM tonight. @SkyNews

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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According to The Guardian, the United States will not respond to a deal with the kidnappers at the In Amenas facility. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, "The United States does not negotiate with terrorists." Mauritania's ANI news service earlier reported that militants at the gas facility had offered an exchange of American hostages for two jihadists held in U.S. prisons.

--Cosima Ungaro

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Foreign Policy outlines Algeria's history of dealing with militants, explaining why the government does not negotiate with terrorists, even at the risk of losing lives.

Algeria's experience with Islamist insurgency during the 1990s defines its response to events today. During that conflict, a debate emerged within the Algerian government about how to deal with the violent Islamists. One side favored a negotiated solution. The other, known as the eradicateurs, said killing the Islamists was the only approach. The eradicateurs won -- and they still remain in the drivers seat in today's Algeria.

Read more at Foreign Policy.

--Kavitha A. Davidson

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French editorialist Jean-Francois Kahn introduces the idea that the hostage crisis could be a consequence of Nicolas Sarkozy's hasty intervention in Libya on HuffPost France, noting that the kidnappers and their arms are believed to have come from the country.

--Cosima Ungaro

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According to The Guardian, Radio France's correspondent in Algeria reported that between seven and 10 attackers armed with explosives were still in the In Amenas plant's machine room.

--Cosima Ungaro

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Algerian hostages revealed details of their ordeal to the French online magazine Le Point.fr. The hostages claim there were 18 to 30 kidnappers, and at least two of them were foreigners. One is reportedly French and the other is from Northern Europe. They describe "heavy and sophisticated" artillery and confirm that Algerians had been separated from foreign hostages, who were held outside.

Read more on Lepoint.fr. (In French)

--Cosima Ungaro

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