At midnight on Wednesday, an Islamist group — believed to be calling themselves the "Signatories for Blood" — took dozens of Algerians and foreign workers hostage at the In Amenas Gas Project in Algeria (near the Libyan border) in retaliation to the French offensive in Mali. The gas complex is operated by 700 employees from Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's Sonatrach.
On Thursday, Algerian troops launched strikes on the gas complex where the hostages were held. Chaos ensued.
Wednesday, Jan. 17
Midnight: Militants storm the In Amenas gas field complex.
11:15 a.m.: The group responsible for the raid talks to Mauritanian press, claiming to have captured 41 foreign workers, including seven Americans. A spokesman confirms that the hostages were taken in response to Algeria allowing France to use its air space for the attacks in Mali.
11:15-11:30 a.m :
BP releases a statement on its website:
Contact with the site is extremely difficult, but we understand that armed individuals are still occupying the In Amenas operations site.
Our absolute priority is the safety and security of our staff.The site is normally manned by staff and contractors from the joint venture. We do not yet have confirmed information on the status of personnel at the site but believe some are being held by the occupiers.
We are attempting to get confirmed information at the moment as to whether there have been any injuries to personnel at the site.
We do not have confirmed information on the identity or intention of the people occupying the site.
Algerian authorities are engaged with the incident. UK authorities, Norwegian and other governments have also been advised and are engaged. Algerian local authorities are working with the joint venture and with BP and Statoil.
BP has activated its emergency response system and is contacting relatives of its people on the site.
A spokesman for David Cameron says that "several British citizens" have been taken hostage.
French president Francois Hollande speaks to press about the hostage situation:
As I am speaking to you, a hostage-taking is under way in Algeria at an energy facility, with a number of people taken hostage whose exact details we don't know, not even for the French nationals who may be involved.
I am in permanent contact with the Algerian authorities who are doing, and will do, their duty. We are also in contact with the heads of state of the countries concerned.
Algerian interior minister Dahou Ould Kablia tells press that there will be no negotiations with terrorists and that Algerian troops and helicopters are surrounding the building.
The Norwegian prime minister confirms that 13 Norwegians are being held hostage.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta confirms that Americans are hostages, but does not know how many hostages were taken.
By all indications, this is a terrorist act, and the United States strongly condemns these kinds of terrorist acts. It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage along with others. We will continue to review the situation. We're in consultation with the Algerians, as well as the British, to determine exactly what happened and what the situation is. And I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation." (American Forces Press Service)
The Telegraph reports that the hostage takers are demanding the release of 100 Islamist prisoners, who should be taken to northern Mali.
One-eyed jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, dubbed "uncatchable" by the French government, is believed to be the mastermind behind the hostage raid. Belmokhtar reportedly swears allegiance to al Qaeda and named his eldest son after Osama bin Laden.
Thursday, Jan. 17:
Algerian forces strike the gas facility from the air. Some 20 hostages have reportedly escaped — including a group of Americans — while some are reportedly wounded by Algerian bombs.
Asian News International reports that the strike killed 34 hostages and 15 kidnappers as the kidnappers were trying to transport hostages to another location within the complex.
Al Jazeera reports Abu Al Baraa, who led the kidnapping mission, is among the dead.
The kidnappers confirm that 34 of the 41 foreign hostages have died. They tell reporters that of the seven foreign hostages still alive, three are from Belgium, two are from the U.S., one is from Japan, and one from the U.K.
According to APS (Algeria's state news agency), four hostages have been freed and flown out from the local airport.
A spokesman for the kidnappers calls for the gas field management to "aid the wounded hostages."
BP issues another statement:
We have been informed by the UK 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.
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.
"Supporting these families is our priority and we are doing all we can to help during this sad and uncertain time," said Bob Dudley, BP Group Chief Executive. We are in contact with the UK and Algerian Governments and will provide updates as soon as further confirmed information is available.
As a precautionary measure, staged plans are underway to bring a group of non-essential workers out of Algeria.
APS reports that the Algerian army has the complex under control and has freed 600 Algerians and some foreign hostages from the U.K., France and Kenya.
A spokesman for the kidnappers says Algeria has launched a ground assault on the complex. They threaten to "kill all the hostages if the Algerian forces succeed in entering the complex".
Ireland announces that a kidnapped Irishman has been freed.
10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.:
Japan urges Algeria to halt military operation. The U.S. seeks "clarity" and France says the crisis is in "terrible conditions."
1:48 p.m.: "The operation is ongoing," announces Algeria's Communication Minister Mohamed Said. He confirms deaths and adds that an "important number" of hostages were freed.
2:56 p.m.: APS reports the hostage rescue operation is over. There is still no final deah toll.
5.45 p.m.: Reuters puts the hostage death toll at 30, citing an Algerian security source, including two from the U.K., two from Japan, one from France and eight from Algeria.
Friday, Jan. 18:
3:20 a.m.: 22 non-Algerian hostages remain unaccounted for, according to the Telegraph — 14 workers from Japan and 8 from Norway.
4:45 a.m.: Reuters reports that a U.S. plane has arrived in Algeria to pick up Americans. The Islamist militant death toll is at least 11.
7 a.m.: Algerie-Focus newspaper reports that 18 kidnappers have been killed; the Algerian military has given them "one last chance" to surrender.
U.K.'s Telegraph breaks down what is known about the nationalities of the hostages:
- ALGERIA: Hundreds of Algerians worked at the gas plant, but the Algerian media say most were released.
- NORWAY: Eight Norwegian employees of Statoil remain unaccounted-for.
- UNITED STATES: Seven Americans were hostages, the militants said, but they claimed only two survived the Algerian strafing Thursday. A US official said that while some Americans escaped, other Americans remain either held or unaccounted for.
- BRITAIN: British Prime Minister David Cameron says 30 Britons were unaccounted for Thursday but that number is now "significantly reduced." One Briton was confirmed killed in the initial attack on Wednesday.
- JAPAN: JGC Corp, which provides services at the complex, confirmed seven Japanese employees were safe and 10 others were unaccounted for. Ten non-Japanese employees are also alive, it said.
- PHILIPPINES: Algeria's state news agency said two Filipino hostages were killed. Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said Friday at least one Filipino escaped with injuries during the military operation and he had no information about any fatalities.
- MALAYSIA: Two Malaysians were held, the government says.
- IRELAND: A 36-year-old Irish electrician was among the hostages but managed to escape.
- FRANCE: President Francois Hollande said there are French hostages but gave no exact number.
- ROMANIA: Romania's Foreign Ministry says Romanians are among hostages.
APS reports that negotiations have resumed and that 60 foreign hostages are currently unaccounted for. The total number of freed hostages — Algerian and foreigners — is 650, including 70 foreigners.
The AP reports that the kidnappers want to exchange two American hostages for two jailed terrorists.
APS reports that about 100 of the 132 foreign hostages were freed. The rest are still considered "missing."
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor releases a statement:
The President is receiving regular updates from his National Security Team on the ongoing situation in Algeria. We are in constant contact with the Government of Algeria and have been clear that our first priority is the safety and security of the hostages. The President discussed the situation with PM Cameron yesterday, and we are in close touch with our other international partners, as well as BP's security office in London."
1 p.m.: The State Department has confirmed Americans are still being held hostage.
2:07 p.m.: APS reports that a "provisional toll" shows 12 hostages have been killed.
3:50 p.m.: One American is dead, per the AP.
As it stands now — and with conflicting reports — about 600 Algerians and 70-100 foreign workers have been freed. Between 12-30 hostages and about 18 kidnappers are dead. Twenty-two to 60 are still unaccounted for. We'll continue to update the numbers.
Saturday. Jan. 19:
11:30 a.m.: British and Norwegian officials are reporting that the Algerian military operation to end the hostage crisis is over. U.S. Defense secretary Leon Panetta was unable to conirm how many Americans were there and what has happened to them, according to CNN. Algerian state media has reported that seven hostages and 11 militants had been killed. So far, the total number of hostages killed or injured at the complex remains unclear.