Militant Islamists killed at least two people and took 20 hostages, including Americans, at a foreign-owned gas field in Algeria early Wednesday, the country’s state-run news agency said.

British, Norwegian, French and Japanese citizens number among the hostages. A top Algerian government official said troops have “encircled the base” so that “no one can leave.” He added that “the situation is confused for the moment. We don’t have precise figures for now. Maybe 30” hostages in all.

He said there were 20 heavily armed attackers in three unmarked vehicles, in which they entered undetected.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The New York Times:

The attack on the gas field appeared to be the first retribution by the Islamists for the French armed intervention in Mali last week, potentially broadening the conflict beyond Mali’s borders and raising the possibility of drawing an increasing number of foreign countries directly into the conflict.

The attack occurred at the In Amenas gas field, the fourth largest gas development in Algeria, and at the In Amenas gas compression plant, which is operated by BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach.

Bard Glad Pedersen, a Statoil spokesman, said that of 17 Statoil employees working in the field, only four were able to safely escape to a nearby Algerian military camp. “There is a hostage situation,” he said. “We do not provide further information how we are dealing with the situation. Our main priority is the safety of our colleagues.”

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