This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. Algerian officials scrambled Thursday for a way to end an armed standoff.
SITE Intel Group/AP
Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. Militants Claim Many Hostages Died From Military Fire:
With an Algerian military operation apparently underway, there's word from The Associated Press that the militants claim more than 30 hostages were killed by "military helicopter strafing." But that number wouldn't seem to make sense if earlier reports about many hostages escaping are correct. As we've been saying, there are many reports and lots of conflicting information. We're aiming to sift through it all as best we can.
Update at 10:30 a.m ET. Military Launches Operation:
— Algeria's state news agency says a military operation to free the hostages is under way, that at least four were freed, but that there have been a number of "victims," the BBC writes.
— Reuters says "25 hostages escaped and six were killed" when Algerian forces moved in.
Again, there are many reports and lots of conflicting information. We're aiming to sift through it all as best we can.
7:23 a.m. ET:
— Algerian troops have surrounded the facility. (BBC News)
— "Algerian official: 20 foreign hostages, including Americans, escape from their captors." (The Associated Press)
— "Algerian news reports said that 30 Algerian hostages and 15 of the foreigners had been able to escape, but there was no immediate independent confirmation of that account." (The New York Times)
— "Dozens of Algerian hostages have escaped a gas facility in southeast Algeria, where Islamist militants continue to hold around 100 people, including 41 foreign nationals." (France 24)
— "Islamist militants who seized Westerners at an Algerian gas plant are demanding a safe passage to nearby Libya, authorities said, as fallout from the French offensive in Mali reverberates globally." (CNN)
— The U.S. is talking with Algerian officials about what can be done to resolve the situation, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says. (AP)
— "The group claiming responsibility — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — said the attack Wednesday was in revenge for Algeria's support of France's military operation against al-Qaida-linked rebels in neighboring Mali." (CBS News)