Algeria: Total of 32 Militants, 23 Hostages Killed

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UPDATE 12:15pm:
ALGIERS, Algeria & LONDON, England (AP) - The Algerian government says 32 militants and 23 captives were killed during the three-day military operation to end the hostage crisis at a natural gas plant in the Sahara.

The provisional death toll was issued by the Interior Ministry on Saturday after the special forces operation crushed the last holdout of the militants at the gas refinery, resulting in 11 extremists killed along with seven hostages.

A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the standoff, which began on Wednesday, the statement added.

The military also confiscated machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

The ministry added that the militants involved consisted of 32 men of various nationalities, including three Algerians.

Meantime, Britain's defense minister Philip Hammond calls the loss of life appalling and unacceptable. He says "it is the terrorists that bear the sole responsibility for it."

Hammond spoke at the start of a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

According to the state news agency in Algeria, special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday in a "final assault" aimed at ending the four-day-old hostage crisis. The report didn't say whether any hostages or militants remained alive, and it didn't give the nationalities of the dead.

Panetta says much remains "sketchy" but "we know that lives have been lost."

AIN AMENAS, Algeria (AP) - Algeria's state news agency says the country's special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert today in a "final assault" aimed at ending a four-day-old hostage crisis.

The report quotes a security source saying 11 militants and seven hostages were killed. There's no word whether any hostages or militants remained alive. The news agency reports the army was forced to intervene after a fire broke out in the plant.

Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of the country's history in confronting terrorists - military action over negotiation - and caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens.

The latest deaths bring the official Algerian tally of dead to 19 hostages and 29 militants, although reports on the number of dead, injured and freed have been contradictory throughout the crisis.

In their final communications, the militants said they were holding seven hostages: three Belgian, two Americans, a Japanese and a Briton. They had threatened to kill them if the Algerian army attacked.

Algerian authorities estimated that about 30 militants occupied the site Wednesday and with 18 already reported dead, it appears the hostage crisis is finally over.