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Panetta vows all necessary steps to rescue U.S. hostages in Algeria

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pledged Wednesday to "take all necessary steps" to rescue American hostages taken by terrorists who took over a natural gas plant in southern Algeria.

"I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation," Panetta was quoted by the American Forces Press Service as telling U.S. reporters traveling with him on his current visit to Rome, Italy.

He said the United States strongly condemns these kinds of terrorist acts. "It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage, along with others."

The U.S. defense chief said he did not know how many Americans were being held by the terrorists, but he noted that U.S. and British authorities -- the natural gas complex is partly owned by British Petroleum -- are in close consultation with their Algerian counterparts to learn as much as possible.

Panetta said he was not sure whether there was a link between the terrorist attack in Algeria and the French military operation in Mali, where France launched air strikes against militants that Panetta identified as affiliated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Panetta revealed that he had spoken with European government and defense leaders in Portugal, Spain and Italy about the situation in Mali.

"I believe that there is a consensus that France took the right step here to ... deter AQIM from taking even further action there," he said.

He noted that European defense ministers would hold a meeting on Thursday to discuss ongoing assistance in Mali.

Panetta arrived in Rome Tuesday on a six-day trip to Europe to visit defense counterparts and troops.

[Source: Xinhua, Washington, 16Jan13]

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