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A 58-year-old Norwegian engineer who made it to the safety of a nearby Algerian military camp told his wife how militants attacked a bus Wednesday before being fended off by a military escort.
"Bullets were flying over their heads as they hid on the floor of the bus," Vigdis Sletten told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her home in Bokn, on Norway’s west coast.
Hostages from at least 9 countries in Algeria
Islamic militants said they have captured 41 foreign hostages at a natural gas complex in the Algerian desert and said later that 35 of them were killed Thursday in Algerian military helicopter strafing.
There was no way to independently confirm the report. Here’s a summary of the latest information on the hostages:
ALGERIA » Hundreds of Algerians worked at the gas plant, but the Algerian media says most have been released. The Norwegian energy company Statoil says three of its Algerian employees are hostages.
NORWAY » Nine Norwegian employees of Statoil are hostages, the company says.
UNITED STATES » Seven Americans were hostages, the militants said, but they claimed only two survived the Algerian strafing Thursday. The U.S. has confirmed that some of its citizens are hostages but gave no numbers.
BRITAIN » “Several” British nationals are among the hostages, the U.K. government says.
JAPAN » At least three of the hostages are Japanese, according to the Japanese media.
MALAYSIA » Two Malaysians being held, the government says.
IRELAND » A 36-year-old Irish man was among the hostages but is now safe and free, according to Ireland’s government.
FRANCE » President Francois Hollande says there are French hostages but gave no exact number.
ROMANIA » Romania’s Foreign Ministry says Romanians are among hostages.
Her husband and the other bus passengers climbed out of a window and were transported to a nearby military camp, she said.
"He is among the lucky ones, and he has confirmed he is not injured," she said, declining to give his name for security reasons.
It was then that the militants went after the living quarters of the plant instead of disappearing back into the desert.
Information about the 41 foreign hostages the militants claimed to have — which allegedly included seven Americans — was scarce and conflicting. All were reportedly workers at the plant.
A spokesman for the Masked Brigade told the Nouakchott Information Agency in Mauritania that the seven surviving hostages included three Belgians, two Americans, a Briton and a Japanese citizen.
Earlier in the day before the raid, an Algerian security official said that 20 foreign hostages had escaped. He did not return phone calls after the raid.
The Norwegian energy company Statoil had said three Algerian employees who had been held hostage were safe but the fate of nine Norwegian workers was unclear. Japanese media reported at least 3 Japanese citizens among the hostages and Malaysia confirmed two.
Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well-armed gunmen operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida’s strongman in the Sahara, who is now based in Mali.
It is certainly the largest haul of hostages since 2003, when the radical group that later evolved into al-Qaida in North Africa snatched 32 Western tourists in southern Algeria. This is also the first time Americans have been involved.
BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, operate the gas field and a Japanese company, JGC Corp, provides services for the facility.
Mali and al-Qaida specialist Mathieu Guidere said Algeria’s refusal to accept help was also normal.
"They never accept any military help," he said. "They want to do it their way."
Associated Press writers Karim Kabir in Algiers, Kimberly Dozier and Robert Burns in Washington, Lori Hinnant and Elaine Ganley in Paris, Bjoern H. Amland in Oslo, Norway, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Cassie Vinograd and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
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