LONDON, Jan 18, 2013 (AFP) -
LONDON, Jan 18, 2013 (AFP) –
British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday that Britons were still “at risk” at a remote gas field in Algeria where the Algerian army continued to pursue “terrorists”.
Britain had feared that up to 30 of its citizens could be in danger at the site deep in the Sahara, but it had now “significantly” reduced the number, Cameron told parliament.
“Last night the number of citizens at risk was less than 30. Thankfully we now know that number has been quite significantly reduced,” he said.
A grim-faced Cameron said the first stage of the Algerian military operation was complete, “but this is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas of the site”.
He said he could not give further details because the operation at the In Amenas plant was “ongoing”.
The crisis has forced Cameron to postpone a key speech on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union that he had been due to give in the Netherlands on Friday.
The Foreign Office said a plane carrying a British emergency deployment team had landed at Hassi Messaoud in eastern Algeria, some 280 miles (450 kilometres) from the gas plant.
“It has a rapid deployment team on board including experts in dealing with people who’ve been through traumatic situations. They are on standby if needed,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.
Cameron told lawmakers the attack had been “brutal and savage” and clearly well-planned.
The Islamist gunmen had first attacked two buses en route to the airfield at the remote desert complex on Wednesday.
Two men had been killed in the initial attack, including a Briton.
The gunmen then attacked the residential compound at the plant before turning their attention to the gas facility itself.
Cameron admitted he had been “disappointed” to have not been informed by the Algerians in advance of the assault on the plant, in which hostages and their captors are reported to have been killed.
Criticism is mounting of Algiers’ decision to carry out the rescue bid without warning governments whose nationals were held.
While the government in London has not commented on any Britons who may have escaped the attack, Scotland’s government said several Scottish residents held hostage were now “safe and well”.