Frederick Buttaccio of Texas among dead in Algerian hostage standoff

11:18 PM, Jan 18, 2013   |    comments
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( USA TODAY) - An American is among the at least 12 Algerians and foreigners who are known dead from the terrorist takeover at a natural gas facility in eastern Algeria, the state Algerian Press Service and U.S. officials said Friday.

Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists continued to hold as many as seven hostages, according to API. U.S. officials told the Associated Press that am American died in the hostage standoff: Texas resident Frederick Buttaccio. It is unclear how he died.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, say Buttaccio's remains have been recovered and his family has been notified.

The Algerian news service, noting that its figures are "provisional," said 18 of the kidnappers were also "put out of action."

Reports of casualties -- and even the number of hostages involved -- have fluctuated wildly since more than a dozen al-Qaeda-linked terrorists attacked the remote desert facility on Wednesday, taking scores of Algerian and foreign hostages.

APS reported earlier Friday that Algerian soldiers freed 573 Algerians and nearly 100 of the 132 non-Algerians in Thursday's raid at the Ain Amenas plant, 800 miles south of Algiers, the capital.

Even with the latest report, however, it remains unclear how many foreign workers died in the raid or of what nationality, and how many escaped the facility.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that she spoke with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal for the third straight day for an update on the "very difficult situation" and "to underscore again that the utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life."

Earlier Friday, leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group that took over the plant said it wanted to trade the American hostages it held for two convicted terrorists being held in U.S. jails, Mauritania's ANI news agency reported Friday.

The terrorists say they want the release of Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui and plan to release a video outlining the offer, according to the news agency, which often reports news from North African extremists.

The 74-year-old Abdel-Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh," is serving a life sentence in North Carolina as the mastermind of the1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Siddiqui, a 40-year-old scientist, was sentenced in 2010 to 86 years in U.S. prison for assault with intent to murder for shooting at two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan during her detention in 2008.

Asked to comment on hostage takers demands, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "The United States does not negotiate with terrorists. We're obviously in consultation with the Algerians."

The Algerian special forces who carried out the raid killed up to 20 hostage-takers, members of an Islamic group known as Qatiba, which translates as Signers in Blood. The forces have surrounded a portion of the facility where more terrorists and some hostages remain, provincial administration sources told APS.

The military was still trying to reach a "peaceful settlement" before "neutralizing" the terrorist group, security sources told APS.

Workers at the facility included citizens of Britain, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands and the United States British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday during an address to members of parliament that efforts to free the hostages without violence are continuing.

A U.S. official said late Thursday that while some Americans escaped, other Americans remained either held or unaccounted for, the Associated Press reported. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Earlier Friday, the Reuters news agency, citing local sources, reported that a U.S. plane has landed in Algeria to pick up Americans caught up in the crisis. Reuters also reported that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking to security specialists in London on Friday, said "Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere."

Cameron and others complained that Algeria went ahead with its raid without alerting Western leaders they were planning an attack.

Reuters, citing an Algerian security source, is reporting that 30 hostages were killed in the assault, including several Westerners.

Members of the hostage-takers Qatiba have been in contact with the ANI news agency and told them that the raid by Algerian forces killed the ground leader of their group, Abou El Baraa.

Reuters, citing a Algerian security source, identified one one of the dead militants as Tahar Ben Cheneb, described as a "prominent commander in the region."

In all the chaos, it was not immediately clear if two militant leaders were killed, or whether the reports were referring to the same person by different names.

Qatiba was created in December by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who broke off from the terror group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to form his own operation. The kidnappers come from Algeria, Canada, Mali, Egypt, Niger and Mauritania, ANI said.

AQIM is operates out of nearby Mali, where it is fighting the Mali army and French forces to take over that country and impose an Islamic state.

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