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American man killed in siege in Algeria

BAMAKO, Mali — Defying the Algerian army's demands to give up, the Islamist militant kidnappers who terrorized a remote Saharan gas field complex still held at least 10 and possibly dozens of foreign hostages Friday.

The United States said for the first time that Americans were among the remaining captives and confirmed the first known death of an American hostage, Frederick Buttaccio, 58, of Katy, Texas. Buttaccio was a Texas-based employee of BP, the British energy giant that helped run the complex. The social networking site for professionals, LinkedIn, lists a Frederick Buttaccio as a sales operations coordinator for BP, but an official of BP said the company would not comment on any employee who may have been at the facility. France said a French citizen also was killed.

All foreign governments with citizens at risk were still scrambling for basic information about the missing as they ferried escaped hostages out of the country on military aircraft and urged Algeria to use restraint.

"This is an extremely difficult and dangerous situation," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Washington. Describing a telephone conversation she had earlier Friday with Algeria's prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, Clinton said she had emphasized to him that "the utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life."

Algeria's state news agency, APS, said 12 Algerian and foreign workers had been killed since Algerian special forces began an assault against the kidnappers Thursday. It was the highest civilian death toll Algerian officials have provided in the aftermath of the assault, which freed captives and killed kidnappers but also left some hostages dead in one of the worst mass abductions of foreign workers in years.

The Algerian news agency also said that 18 militants had been killed and that the country's special forces were dealing with remnants of a "terrorist group" that was still holding hostages in the refinery area of the gas field in remote eastern Algeria.

It also gave a new sense of how many people may have been at the facility when the militants seized it Wednesday, asserting that nearly 650 had managed to leave the site since then, including 573 Algerians and nearly half of the 132 foreigners it said had been abducted. But that still left many people unaccounted for.

Earlier Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that not all Americans had been freed. "We have American hostages," Nuland told reporters, offering the first update on what was known about U.S. citizens since officials confirmed Thursday that seven or eight of them had been inside the gas-field complex.

Nuland also said the United States would not consider a reported offer made by the kidnappers to exchange two Americans for two prominent figures imprisoned in the United States: Omar Abdel Rahman, a sheik convicted of plotting to bomb New York landmarks, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman convicted of shooting two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. It was impossible to confirm that offer, which was reported by the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, a service that tracks jihadist activity on the Internet.

"The United States does not negotiate with terrorists," Nuland said.

The Algerian military operation to end the siege was done without consulting foreign governments whose citizens worked at the facility. It has been marked by a fog of conflicting reports, compounded by the remoteness of the facility, near a town called Ain Amenas hundreds of miles across the desert from the Algerian capital, Algiers, and close to the Libyan border.

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that the number of Britons at risk was estimated late Thursday at "less than 30." That number has now been "quite significantly reduced," he said, adding that he could not give details because the crisis is continuing. British officials have said they know at least one Briton was killed when the militants seized the facility.

Offering a broad account of Algeria's handling of the operation, he told lawmakers: "We were not informed of this in advance. I was told by the Algerian prime minister while it was taking place. He said that the terrorists had tried to flee, that they judged there to be an immediate threat to the lives of the hostages and had felt obliged to respond."

Clinton 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."

In Paris, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed for the first time that a French citizen had been killed, although it was not clear exactly when. The victim, whom Fabius identified as Yann Desjeux, had contacted relatives as recently as noon Thursday, according to the French newspaper Sud Ouest, which also said it had spoken with Desjeux. Three other French citizens were involved in the hostage situation but are now safe, Fabius said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with Cameron in London as Pentagon officials were continuing to try to learn details about the raid.

"We are working around the clock to ensure the safe return of our citizens, and we will continue to be in close consultation with the Algerian government," Panetta said in a speech in London before meeting with Cameron.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

American man killed in siege in Algeria 01/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 11:35pm]
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