* Algerian PM: 38 dead civilians, 29 militants killed
* Dead Canadian named as "Chedad" coordinated attack -PM
* Of hostages, 37 foreigners killed; five more still missing
* Three Islamist assailants taken into custody
* Japanese, Filipinos, British, Norwegians among the dead
By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, Jan 21 Algeria said on Monday it had
confirmed the deaths of at least 38 workers, all but one
foreign, at the Sahara gas plant its forces stormed two days ago
and said the Islamist gunmen had been led by a man with Canadian
Named only as Chedad, a surname found among Arabs in North
Africa, the Canadian was among 29 assailants from a local al
Qaeda group killed during the four-day siege, Algerian Prime
Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said. Another three were detained.
Among hostages confirmed dead by their own governments were
three Americans, seven Japanese, six Filipinos and three
Britons; others from Britain, Norway and elsewhere were listed
as unaccounted for. Sellal said 37 foreigners died, of whom
seven were unidentified, and a further five were missing.
Though nearly 700 Algerians and 100 other foreigners escaped
or were rescued, the apparent ease with which a group could race
over the nearby border from lawless Libya and seize a heavily
defended and economically strategic facility has raised doubts
for investors on the security of Algeria's vital energy sector.
An Algerian security source said investigators pursuing the
possibility that the attackers had inside help to map the
complex and gain entry were questioning at least two employees.
Claimed by an Algerian al Qaeda leader as a riposte to
France's attack on his allies in neighbouring Mali the previous
week, the four-day siege also drew global attention to Islamists
in the Sahara and Sahel regions and brought pledges of support
to African governments from Western powers whose toppling of
Libya's Muammar Gaddafi helped flood the region with weapons.
Sellal, whose government ruled out negotiation with the
hostage-takers from the start, vowed that Algeria, scarred by a
bitter civil war against Islamists in the 1990s, would prevent
the rise of an Afghan-style power base for al Qaeda in the south
- there would be no "Sahelistan", he told a news conference.
Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament in London that
Britain would increase its help to Algeria's intelligence and
security forces and might do more for France in Mali, though he
ruled out sending many of its stretched armed forces to Africa.
Noting a shift in the source of threats to British interests
from Afghanistan to Africa, he also noted Sellal's rundown of a
multinational group of assailants and said the region was
becoming "a magnet for jihadists".
Alongside a "strong security response", however, he called
for efforts to address long-standing grievances, such as poverty
and political exclusion, which foster support for violence. Some
militants in Algeria want autonomy for the south and complain of
domination by an unchanging establishment in Algiers.
DEATH AND SURVIVAL
As Algerian forces combed the Tigantourine plant near the
town of In Amenas for explosives and the missing, survivors and
the bereaved told tales of terror, narrow escapes and of death.
"The terrorists lined up four hostages and assassinated
them, shot them in the head," a brother of Kenneth Whiteside
told Sky News, in an account of the Briton's death given to the
family by an Algerian colleague who witnessed it. "Kenny just
smiled the whole way through. He'd accepted his fate."
Filipino survivor Joseph Balmaceda said gunmen used him for
cover: "Whenever government troops tried to use a helicopter to
shoot at the enemy, we were used as human shields."
A Frenchman man hid for more than a day under his bed as
jihadist fighters searched the residential complex.
Another Briton, Garry Barlow, called his wife from within
the site before he was killed and said: "I'm sat here at my desk
with Semtex strapped to my chest."
Several hostages died on Thursday when Algerian helicopters
blasted jeeps in which the militants were trying to move them.
Others were able to flee: "We cut the wire with clippers and
ran for it, all together, about 50 of us," one told the Times.
A Romanian said he walked 30 km (20 miles) across the desert
with little water before running into an Algerian police patrol.
Citizens of nine countries including Algeria died, Sellal
said, among them seven Japanese, six Filipinos, two Romanians,
an American, a Frenchman and four Britons. Washington later name
three dead Americans; Britain said only three Britons were dead
but three plus a London-based Colombian were also believed dead.
Norway said the fate of five of its citizens was unclear; in
addition to seven Japanese dead, Tokyo said three were missing.
An Algerian security source had earlier told Reuters that
documents found on the bodies of two militants had identified
them as Canadians: "A Canadian was among the militants. He was
coordinating the attack," Sellal said, adding that the raiders
had threatened to blow up the gas installation.
That Canadian's name was given only as Chedad. Algerian
officials have also named other militants in recent days as
having leadership roles among the attackers. Veteran Islamist
Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility on behalf of al Qaeda.
In a video distributed on the Internet, the one-eyed veteran
of Afghan wars of the 1980s, of Algeria's civil war and of the
lucrative trans-Sahara cigarette smuggling trade, said: "We in
al Qaeda announce this blessed operation."
Dressed in combat fatigues and standing in front of a black
Islamist banner, Belmokhtar demanded an end to French attacks on
Islamist fighters in Mali. These began five days before the
fighters swooped before dawn and seized a plant that produces 10
percent of Algeria's natural gas exports.
U.S. and European officials doubt such a complex raid could
have been organised quickly enough to have been conceived as a
direct response to the French military intervention. Sellal said
it had been two months in the planning. However, French action
could have triggered an operation that had already been planned.
It was not clear what evidence the Algerian authorities had
for some of their information, including on the nationalities of
the attackers; 11 of them, they said, were Tunisian, while only
three were Algerian. Others came from Egypt, Mali, Niger and
Mauritania, as well as from Canada.
In Ottawa, Canada's foreign affairs department said it was
seeking information. Security experts noted that some Canadian
citizens had been involved with international militants before.
The jihadists had planned the attack two months ago in
neighbouring Mali, Sellal added. They had travelled from there
through Niger and Libya, hence evading Algeria's strong security
services, until close to In Amenas. Their aim, he said, had been
to take foreign hostages to Mali, and they made a first attempt
to take captives from a bus near the site early on Wednesday.
He said special forces and army units were deployed against
the militants, who had planted explosives in the gas plant with
a view to blowing up the facility. Normally producing 10 percent
of Algeria's natural gas, it was shut down during the incident.
The government now aims to reopen it this week, although
officials at Britain's BP and Norway's Statoil, which operate
the plant with Algeria's state energy firm, were less certain.
An Algerian newspaper said they had arrived in cars painted
in the colours of state-owned Sonatrach but registered in Libya,
a country awash with heavy weaponry since Western powers backed
a revolt to bring down Gaddafi in 2011. Using Libya's oil
wealth, Gaddafi had exercised a degree of influence in the
region and the consequences of his death are still unfolding.
In a sign of the complexities wrought by the Arab Spring
revolts, Egypt, a former military dictatorship now led by one of
the generals' Islamist foes, criticised France's intervention in
Mali on Monday. President Mohamed Mursi called instead for more
spending to address rebels' grievances and warned that the
military moves would "inflame the conflict in this region".
The bloodshed also added strains to Algeria's long fraught
relations with Western powers, where some complained about being
left in the dark while the decision to storm the compound was
being taken. Algiers portrayed the operation as a success.
And this week, Britain and France both defended the military
action by Algeria, the strongest military power in the Sahara
and an ally the West needs in combating the militants.
"This would have been a most demanding task for security
forces anywhere in the world and we should acknowledge the
resolve shown by the Algerians in undertaking it," British Prime
Minister Cameron told parliament on Monday.
Chafik Mesbah, a former Algerian presidential security
adviser, said: "The West did not criticise Algeria because it
knows an assault was inevitable in the circumstances ... The
victims were a minimum price to pay to solve the crisis."