The hostage crisis in Algeria are unfolding rapidly and indeed details both abound and differ in terms of the number of hostages and casualties involved.
A brief review of Friday’s reports reveal that the al Qaeda-linked terrorist cell responsible for the attack has demanded the release of Omar Abdel-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” in exchange for at least two of the Americans being held hostage.
The State Department confirmed to Fox News Friday that there are indeed still American hostages being held at the BP gas plant in Algeria, but, when asked about the potential for trading hostages for terror figures imprisoned in the United States, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”
She added that the U.S. is working with the Algeria and other governments to try to secure the release of the remaining hostages.
CNN is also reporting on this unsettling development:
The [state-run Alegerian] press service said Friday that an Algerian military operation freed 650 hostages, including 100 foreigners. At least 30 foreign workers were still unaccounted for, according to the unconfirmed media report.
It said 12 hostages have been killed in the wake of the military operation, which began Thursday.
A spokesman for Moktar Belmoktar, a veteran jihadist who leads the group, made the offer in an interview with a private Mauritanian news agency.
The spokesman said Belmoktar is willing to exchange the Americans for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who orchestrated the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who is jailed in the United States on terrorism charges.
In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who called the siege an “act of terror,” has urged Algeria to do everything in its power to ensure the hostages’ safety and free them.
Clinton said that in her conversation with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal Friday, she stressed that “the utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life.”
The three-day-long carnage at the BP plant in the Sahara took a turn Friday as Algeria’s state news service reported that nearly 100 of the 132 foreign workers kidnapped by Islamic militants had been freed.
The Associated Press notes that while the number of hostages at the facility was a great deal higher than previous reports had indicated, questions about the fate of over 30 additional foreign workers remains unclear. The government’s latest hostage tally was far higher than the 41 foreigners the militants had originally claimed to have captured.
In addition to the Blind Sheikh, the Islamic militants are also reportedly demanding the release of Aifia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist who shot at two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.