WASHINGTON The United States said on Wednesday that U.S. citizens were among the hostages taken when Islamist militants raided a gas facility in Algeria and that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had telephoned Algeria's prime minister to discuss the incident.
"Beyond confirming that there are Americans among the hostages, I will ask you to respect our decision not to get into any further details as we try to secure these people," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.
Nuland said Clinton had spoken with both Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and the U.S. ambassador in Algeria on Thursday, and that U.S. officials were also in contact with the security office of British Petroleum, which operates the gas field together with Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state company Sonatrach.
The militants said they had kidnapped up to 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in the dawn raid in retaliation for France's intervention in Mali, according to media reports. The raiders were also reported to have killed three people, including a Briton and a French national.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking to reporters in Rome where he was on an official trip, said that "by all indications, this is a terrorist act."
"Obviously we're continuing to review the situation to determine exactly what happened," Panetta said.
"I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation."
Panetta said he did not have any firm information on the number of hostages, or on whether there were links to the situation in Mali, where French troops launched their first ground assault against Islamist rebels on Wednesday after six days of air strikes.
"I do know that terrorists are terrorists," Panetta said.
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn, additional reporting by David Alexander in Rome; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Simao)