US President Barack Obama said Saturday that blame for deaths stemming from a hostage crisis in Algeria lay with the "terrorists" who had earlier taken foreigners captive at a remote gas plant.
The remarks were the president's first direct comments about the protracted hostage crisis. His statement was released several hours after Algerian troops stormed the gas plant to end a situation that had began four days earlier.
"Today, the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the families of all those who were killed and injured in the terrorist attack in Algeria," Obama said.
"The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms."
Obama said the attack by Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen at the In Amenas facility deep in the Sahara was a reminder of the threat posed by "Al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa."
The United States had been in constant contact with Algerian officials over the crisis, the president said.
"In the coming days, we will remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this," Obama added.
Twenty-one hostages died during the siege and 32 kidnappers were also killed, while special forces were able to free "685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners," according to Algeria's Interior Ministry.
Among the dead were an unknown number of foreigners -- including from Britain, France, Romania and the United States -- and many were still unaccounted for, including Japanese.
In Saturday's assault, "the Algerian army took out 11 terrorists, and the terrorist group killed seven foreign hostages," state television said, without giving a breakdown of their nationalities.
A security official who spoke to AFP as army helicopters overflew the plant gave the same death tolls, adding it was believed the foreigners were executed "in retaliation".
10 Japanese remain unaccounted for in Algeria: employer
A Japanese engineering firm said Sunday that 10 of its Japanese and seven of its foreign workers remain unaccounted for at an Algerian gas plant seized by Islamist militants, adding the situation was "grave".
JGC Corp. said it had confirmed the safety of 61 of 78 workers after Algerian troops stormed the remote gas plant Saturday to end the hostage crisis that killed 23 foreigners and Algerians.
"We have newly confirmed the safety of 41 of our workers but the safety of the remaining 10 Japanese and seven foreign workers is yet to be confirmed," JGC spokesman Takeshi Endo told reporters.
"We are taking very gravely the information, which has been announced by the government, that a number of Japanese have been killed," he said.
Of the 17 Japanese working at the plant, seven have been confirmed as safe by the company.
"We acknowledge that we are in a grave situation, judging from the government information and information we have obtained from our office in Algeria," Endo added.
The Algerian interior ministry said 21 hostages died during the siege that began when the Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen attacked the In Amenas facility deep in the Sahara desert at dawn on Wednesday.
Thirty-two kidnappers were also killed, and special forces were able to free "685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners," it said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said earlier Sunday he had received "severe information" from Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal when they talked on the telephone about the end of the stand-off.
Tokyo had asked the Algerian government to prioritise saving the lives of hostages.
"It is regrettable that I was given sombre information," Abe was quoted by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko as telling Sellal.