An Islamist group that claims to have taken dozens of people captive in an attack on an oil field in southern Algeria today said the move was in revenge for French military action in neighboring Mali, according to Agence-France Press.
Several people are also believed to have been killed in the assault and as many as 40 kidnapped, but exact figures remain unclear.
A militant group that described itself as the "Battalion of Blood" issued a statement critical of what it called "the crusade being waged by French forces in Mali," said AFP.
"We hold the Algerian government and the French government and the countries of the hostages fully responsible if our demands are not met and it is up to them to stop the brutal aggression against our people in Mali," the group's statement said, reported Reuters.
BP today said it believed the In Amenas gas field has been shut down following the incident, according to Reuters. The oil giant earlier today issuing a statement saying the site had been “attacked" and personnel were being “held by the occupiers.”
Multiple news outlets are citing an Agence France-Presse report, in which a spokesman for the Islamists tells the Mauritanian News Agency that his group captured "forty-one westerners including seven Americans, French, British and Japanese citizens."
The US State Department today said American citizens are believed among those being held, said Reuters. Norway's Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, also said today that 13 employees of Statoil, Norway's small shareholder in the gas field's production, had been taken captive.
The Algerian interior ministry explained to Reuters what happened:
"A terrorist group, heavily armed and using three vehicles, launched an attack this Wednesday at 5 a.m. against a Sonatrach base in Tigantourine, near In Amenas, about 100 km (60 miles) from the Algerian and Libyan border."
Algerian officials said it would not negotiate with the militants, who demand, according to Reuters, the cessation of French military operations in Mali. AFP reports the group also wants the release of 100 detained Islamists, while Reuters cited militants as saying the attack was in revenge for Algeria allowing the French to use their airspace in an ongoing offensive against militants in neighboring Mali. That claim could not be immediately confirmed.
The Algerian government, meanwhile, refuses to negotiate. "The Algerian authorities will not respond to the demands of the terrorists and will not negotiate," said Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, according to Reuters.
An alleged spokesman for the militants warned against a military rescue operation.
''Storming the gas complex would be easy for the Algerian military, but the outcome of such an operation would be disastrous," an alleged spokesman told the BBC.
The attack comes as French troops begin their ground assault in northern Mali against Islamic militant rebels that have close ties to Al Qaeda.
Citing multiple news sources, CNN reported the Islamic Maghreb group claimed responsibility for the attack. Other sources say a group known as the Khaled Abu al-Abbas Brigade claimed responsibility. Both have close ties to Al Qaeda.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version. There was not initially a confirmed link between the conflict in Mali and the attack in Algeria.