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Deadly Hostage Crisis Continues In Algeria

The crisis continues at a remote desert gas plant in eastern Algeria, where Islamic militants seized a large number of hostages on Wednesday, government forces fought to free them on Thursday and a number of deaths — among both hostages and their captors — were being reported on Friday.

Though it was being reported that some of the hostages, who officials say included Americans and other foreigners, had either escaped or been freed, there was also word early Friday that some militants and captives were still somewhere in the sprawling facility.

Much remains unknown. As The Associated Press writes, "Algeria's government has kept a tight grip on information, but it was clear that the militant assault that began Wednesday has killed at least six people from the factory — and perhaps many more."

The militants reportedly seized the hostages in retaliation for France's military intervention in neighboring Mali. Islamist extremists have taken control of parts of Mali, and it's feared they will use the country as a base to launch terrorist attacks elsewhere.

As we did on Thursday, we're focusing on stories from news outlets with reporters who have sources that should have knowledge about what's happening. There will still be a great deal of conflicting information, however. We'll keep sifting through it and updating as the day continues.

Update at 1:35 p.m. ET. 10 Americans Were There, U.S. Officials Believe:

U.S. officials who are monitoring the situation tell NPR's Tom Bowman that, to the best of their knowledge, there were 10 Americans at the site when it was attacked Wednesday. Five of the Americans may have been able to flee the area. Two others, the officials say, were reportedly able to hide. Three Americans, the officials believe, were taken hostage. They have reports that one American may have been killed.

The officials also tell Tom that the U.S. is positioning aircraft to evacuate the injured.

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET. Americans Believed To Still Be Held Hostage:

Americans are among the hostages still believed to be held, the State Department says. There's no word on how many people that includes.

Update at 12:15 p.m. ET. Foreign Companies Report More Than 20 People Unaccounted For:

Keeping track of how many how many people are at the gas plant and how many might still be hostages continues to be difficult. The Washington Post passes along this information: "The companies whose workers were taken hostage by Islamic militants at a gas compound in Algeria on Wednesday say they have evacuated some employees and confirmed the whereabouts of others, but the status of more than 22 individuals is still unknown."

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. More Hostages Than Thought; Many Released?

"The bloody three-day hostage standoff at a Sahara natural gas plant took a dramatic 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 says.

The wire service adds that the "number of hostages at the remote desert facility was significantly higher than any previous report, and still meant that the fate of over 30 foreign energy workers was unclear. Yet it could indicate a potential breakthrough in the confrontation that began when the militants seized the plant early Wednesday."

Please keep in mind, as we've been saying, there's a great deal of conflicting information. We're trying to sort through it.

Some of the early reports:

-- Other Nations Not Alerted Before Raid. "The U.S., Britain, Japan and other nations [whose citizens are among the hostages] say they were not consulted by Algeria or alerted about Thursday's raid on the gas facility by that nation's security forces," NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Mali. "Algeria says it responded with force to prevent the hostage-takers from leaving the remote facility with foreign hostages, which could have escalated into an ever greater crisis."

-- Algerian Officials Defend Action. "The Algerian government, which fought a civil war with Islamist militants that killed more than 100,000 people in the 1990s, sought to justify its raid on the gas complex at In Amenas, which is run by BP; Statoil, a Norwegian firm; and Sonatrach, the Algerian national oil company," writes the Los Angeles Times. " 'Those who think we will negotiate with terrorists are delusional,' Mohamed Said Belaid, Algeria's communications minister, told state media. 'Those who think we will surrender to their blackmail are delusional.' "

-- Higher Death Estimates "Exaggerated." "Estimates of the foreign casualties ranged from 4 to 35, though one Algerian official said the higher figure was 'exaggerated,' " The New York Times reports.

-- It's An "Ongoing Operation." "In a statement to the House of Commons, British prime minister David Cameron said the Algerian mission to rescue the ... hostages was an 'ongoing operation,' " says The Guardian.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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