US did not know of Algeria hostage rescue bid in advance

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 18 2013 08:32 AM | Updated as of Jan 18 2013 04:32 PM

WASHINGTON - The United States was not told in advance of Algeria's intention to mount a bid to rescue foreign hostages from an Al-Qaeda linked group but did urge authorities in Algiers to be cautious.

"We were not aware of the raid in advance," a US official told AFP, adding that American officials "strongly encouraged" the Algerian authorities to make the safety of the hostages their top priority.

Algerian troops earlier launched an air and ground assault on a gas complex besieged by Islamists.

According to Algerian Communication Minister Mohamed Said, "several people" were killed or wounded and a "large number" of hostages freed at the site, jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and state-run Algerian energy firm Sonatrach.

Earlier, the kidnappers, who are linked to Al-Qaeda, claimed the army air and ground assault on the complex near the Libyan border had left 34 hostages dead.

With information scarce, US officials declined to offer details on possible deaths or rescues of Americans among the hostages.

Earlier, the White House said it was seeking "clarity" about reports of loss of life from the Algerian government.

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