ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) - Islamist militants have told a Mauritanian news outlet that Algerian military helicopters strafed the gas complex where they are holding hostages, killing 35 of the foreigners and 15 of the kidnappers.
The spokesman for the Masked Brigade, which had earlier claimed responsibility for the assault Wednesday on the gas complex deep in the Sahara desert, said Thursday that Abou El Baraa, the leader of the kidnappers, was also killed in the helicopter attack.
The information came from the Nouakchott Information Agency, which has often carried reports from al-Qaida-linked extremist groups. The militant spokesman said the kidnappers were attacked by Algerian helicopters when they attempted to leave the complex.
Earlier, Algerian security officials said 20 of the hostages had escaped, including some Americans. The al-Qaida-linked militants stormed the complex early yesterday, saying the attack was in retaliation for France's military operation against other Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.
The Algerian government would not immediately comment on the standoff and the Associated Press was not able to independently confirm the information.