Security officials told Algerian media Sunday that they had discovered 25 charred bodies after they mounted a final assault at the remote Sahara plant the previous day, apparently leaving the kidnappers and remaining captives dead.
Those discoveries, coupled with the death of a Romanian hostage who succumbed to his injuries after escaping, brought the overall death toll to at least 81. Algerian officials had said Saturday that 23 hostages and 32 militants had been killed in the standoff. It was not known Sunday whether the 25 newly discovered bodies were those of hostages or captors.
As the search of the gas facility continued on Monday, French and Algerian media reported that two of the dozens of dead militants were Canadian nationals. They did not offer additional information about their identities.
The crisis erupted Wednesday, when militants staged a dawn raid on the desert gas complex. The United States and other Western governments had urged caution and put intense pressure on the Algerians to avoid hostage deaths.
Obama administration officials and congressional staff members said Sunday that they received only scant information from Algeria’s government and military throughout the ordeal. Algerian authorities seemed determined to use force even at the risk of harm to hostages, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal communications.
Analysts said Algeria’s no-
negotiations approach had long been a policy and should not have surprised the West or the militants. But the group that asserted responsibility for the attack said in statements Sunday that it had been seeking talks, not a bloodbath.
The Signatories in Blood brigade, led by al-Qaeda-linked Mokhtar Belmokhtar, said the Algerian government had ignored its push for a bargain, calling the harsh crackdown “barbaric” in a statement published by the Mauritanian Nouakchott News Agency.
The militant group had been “offering negotiations” as late as Saturday, the statement said.
The statement also included a threat, warning any country that assists France with its operations in crisis-hit Mali that more attacks would come. And it told “Muslim brothers” to stay away from Western companies, especially French ones, “for their own safety.”
The one-eyed Belmokhtar, who has been involved in gunrunning and kidnapping, had long been seen as less ideologically driven than some of his compatriots in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, analysts said. Instead, he raised millions of dollars for the umbrella group by auctioning off the release of hostages for ransoms.
Although Belmokhtar had carried out deadly attacks in the past, several analysts suggested that he may not have expected such a harsh response from the Algerian government at the gas plant. He and his followers apparently split from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb just weeks ago. Many analysts doubted that he would have sent so many members of his group to their deaths at one time.