Japan 'terribly disappointed' in Algerian military operation
Algeria faces tough questions from governments of the kidnapped nationals over its handling of the crisis. Neither the United States nor Britain, for instance, was told in advance about Algeria's military operation Thursday.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said his nation's officials had urged Algeria's government to avoid exposing hostages to danger. "We are terribly disappointed about the Algerians' military operation," Suga said.
Japanese Vice Minister Shunichi Suzuki summoned Algeria's ambassador Friday to express Tokyo's concern.
U.S. officials made a similar plea to the Algerians, urging them to be cautious and make the hostages' safety their priority, an official in President Barack Obama's administration said.
A senior U.S. official said American officials did not trust information they got from the Algerians, "because we hear one thing and then we hear something else."
But Algeria acted out of a sense of urgency after noticing hostages being moved toward "a neighboring country," where kidnappers could use them "as a means of blackmail with criminal intent," Communications Minister Mohamed Said told state television.
Algerian troops fired on at least two SUVs trying to leave the facility, Algerian radio said. And a reporter saw clashes near the site, according to the Algerian Press Service and radio reports.
"There were a number of dead and injured, we don't have a final figure," the communications minister said of casualties after the operation.
Belmoktar, the man behind the group claiming responsibility for the attack and kidnappings, is known for seizing hostages.
French counterterrorism forces have long targeted Belmoktar, an Algerian who lost an eye fighting in Afghanistan in his teens. Libyan sources said he spent several months in Libya in 2011, exploring cooperation with local jihadist groups and securing weapons.
The militants said they carried out the operation because Algeria allowed French forces to use its airspace in attacking Islamist militants in Mali. Media in the region reported the attackers issued a statement demanding an end to "brutal aggression on our people in Mali" and cited "blatant intervention of the French crusader forces in Mali."
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the Algerian hostage situation "confirms the gravity of the terrorist threat and the necessity to fight it with a determined and united front."
That sentiment was echoed by Clinton, the top U.S. diplomat. She stressed the need for a concerted, international effort to address terrorist and other threats around Africa.
"It is absolutely essential that, while we work to resolve this particular terrible situation, we continue to broaden and deepen our counterterrorism cooperation," she said Friday. "It is not only cooperation with Algeria, it is international cooperation against a common threat."