Washington - Jan. 17, 2013

1. SOUNDBITE: Hillary Clinton / Secretary of State

"I spoke with the Algerian Prime Minister Sellal yesterday. I expect to speak with him again this afternoon. Our counterterrorism experts have been in close contact with their Algerian counterparts throughout the last days. And we've also been in close consultation with partners around the world, sharing information, working to contribute to the resolution of this hostage situation as quickly as possible. Now, let me say the situation is very fluid. It's in a remote area of Algeria near the Libyan border. The security of our Americans who are held hostage is our highest priority but of course we care deeply about the other Algerian and foreign hostages as well. And because of the fluidity and the fact there is a lot of planning going on, I cannot give you any further details at this time about the current situation on the ground. But I can say that more broadly what we are seeing in Mali, in Algeria reflects the broader strategic challenge. First and foremost, for countries in North Africa and for the United States and the broader international community. Instability in Mali has created the opportunity for a staging base and safe haven for terrorists."


The Obama administration was in the dark Thursday about the hostage situation at a natural gas plant in Algeria, where Algerian forces launched a military assault to free dozens of foreign hostages, including an unknown number of Americans, held by militants who have ties to Mali's rebel Islamists.

The U.S. condemned the militants for holding hostage several Americans and dozens of other people at the isolated plant, located 800 miles south of the capital, Algiers, in the Sahara Desert, but had been unable by midday to offer any details about how many American hostages they were, whether they were still in captivity or even alive.

Islamists with the Masked Brigade, who have been speaking through a Mauritanian news outlet, said the Algerians opened fire Thursday as the militants tried to leave the vast Ain Amenas energy complex with their hostages. They claimed that 35 hostages and 15 militants died but seven hostages survived when Algerian helicopters strafed their convoy.