Algeria Hostage-Taking Could Be Retaliation For France's Actions In Mali

Islamist militants attacked and seized a gas field in Algeria on Wednesday and said they were holding dozens of foreign workers hostage, including seven Americans. The militants said the attack is retaliation for France's military intervention in Mali.

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Algerian Islamists attacked an oil and gas field at dawn this morning in the desert on the border with Libya. They claim to have taken nearly 200 people hostage. In addition to Algerians, they claim to hold seven Americans, as well as French, British and Japanese citizens.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris reports the hostage-taking appears to be the first act of retaliation for France's actions in Mali.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Algeria hostage taking is huge news in France, as it is seen as payback for France helping to oust Islamists in Mali. More than 15 hours after the Algerian Islamists overran the facility, which was partly run by British Petroleum, there is still confusion over what happened. The governments of Norway, Japan and Ireland have confirmed that their citizens were taken. The White House, too, said there are Americans among the hostages.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke from Rome.

SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: We do believe that there are Americans involved here. But I don't know the number of hostages that have been taken.

BEARDSLEY: Panetta said he didn't know if the action was related to Mali, but analysts in France were sure it was.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: This French news analyst says the kidnapping was a reaction to the Algerian government allowing French planes into its airspace, to launch raids on northern Mali.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Islamists called Algeria's attitude a betrayal for the blood of Algerian martyrs slain by the French colonists.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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