Sahara hostage siege turns Mali war global; foreigners held
ALGIERS/BAMAKO (REUTERS) - Islamist fighters have opened an international front in Mali's civil war by taking dozens of Western hostages at a gas plant in the Algerian desert just as French troops launched an offensive against rebels in neighbouring Mali.
Nearly 24 hours after gunmen stormed the natural gas pumping site and workers' housing before dawn on Wednesday, little was certain beyond a claim by a group calling itself the "Battalion of Blood" that it was holding 41 foreign nationals, including Americans, Malaysians, Japanese and Europeans, at Tigantourine, deep in the Sahara.
Algerian media said a Briton and an Algerian were killed in the assault. Another local report said a Frenchman had died.
One thing is clear: as a headline-grabbing counterpunch to this week's French buildup in Mali, it presents French President Francois Hollande with a daunting dilemma and spreads the fallout from Mali's war against loosely allied bands of Al-Qaeda-inspired rebels far beyond Africa, challenging Washington and Europe.