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Norwegian PM confirms 13 Norwegians taken hostage in Algeria
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday night confirmed that 13 Norwegian nationals have been taken hostage in a "terrorist attack" on a gas field in eastern Algeria, while a Norwegian oil firm said four of them are safe now.
Addressing an urgent press conference, Stoltenberg said that he looked "very seriously" at the unfolding situation arisen out of the hostage episode.
"It's one of the most serious hostage situation Norwegian citizens have been involved in," said the prime minister.
He said that the important thing was to "get our people home safe and sound and that there are few lives lost in the action."
The Norwegian government has already sent an emergency team to Algeria, which will work together with the Norwegian embassy to deal with the situation.
Meanwhile according to the latest report, four of the 13 Norwegians involved in the Algeria hostage crisis are relatively safe after they managed to arrive at a nearby military camp, reported the Norwegian news agency NTB.
Now only nine other employees of Norwegian origin remained unaccounted for, Lars Christian Bacher, a vice president of the Norwegian oil firm Statoil, was quoted as saying.
"The situation is still unpredictable, "said Bacher.
Earlier in the day, Bacher said that there were 17 Statoil employees at the gas facility when an armed group launched an attack at 6:50 a.m. Norwegian time (0550 GMT).
Three Algerians and a Canadian, who are part of the 17 Statoil employees at the facility at the time of attack, also escaped to their safety, according to earlier reports.
Bacher said earlier that the company has a close dialogue with the Norwegian and Algerian authorities.
Helge Lund, the Statoil CEO, is on the way back to Norway after a trip to Asia.
A group known as Katibat Moulathamine (The masked brigade) telephoned a news channel in Mauritania, saying that 41 people from nine or 10 different countries were taken hostage, according to the Norwegian-language newspaper Aftenposten.
The armed group reportedly raided a bus loaded with mostly foreign oil workers heading to the airport in Amenas, Algeria, and moved to the gas facility, where many of the bus passengers worked.
The group claimed the attack was a retaliatory act against Algeria's support for the ongoing French military action against Islamist rebels in Mali.
Other media reports said that there were American citizens among the 41 held hostage at the facility, the third largest in the African country.
Authorities in Japan and Ireland confirmed that five Japanese and a specific number of Irish nationals were also kidnapped.
Two people, including a British national, was allegedly killed in the attack.
However, French President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday he can not confirm that any French nationals had been taken hostage after the Islamists' attack in Algeria.
Algerian officials said that Algerian security forces have surrounded the facility and started negotiations with the hostage takers.
The gas facility, which lies about 1,300 km south of Algiers and is located near the border with Libya, is jointly owned by BP, Statoil and the Algerian company Sonatrach.
[Source: Xinhua, Oslo, 16Jan13]
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