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Some Algerian hostages are US citizens

BAMAKO, Mali — Defying the Algerian army’s demands to give up, the band of Islamist militant kidnappers who terrorized a remote natural gas field still held at least 10 and possibly dozens of foreign hostages Friday, and a senior Algerian government official said there were no talks planned to end the standoff.

‘‘They are being told to surrender, that’s it,’’ said the official on the third day of the crisis. ‘‘No negotiations. That is a doctrine with us.’’

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The United States said for the first time that Americans were among the remaining captives and confirmed the first known death of an American hostage, Frederick Buttaccio, 58, of Katy, Texas. Buttaccio was a Texas-based employee of BP, the British energy company that helped run the complex. France said a French citizen also was known to have been killed.

All foreign governments with citizens at risk were still scrambling for basic information about the missing as they ferried escaped hostages out of the country on military aircraft and urged Algeria to use restraint.

‘‘This is an extremely difficult and dangerous situation,’’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. Describing a telephone conversation she had earlier Friday with Algeria’s prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, Clinton said she had emphasized to him that ‘‘the utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life.’’

Algeria’s state news agency, APS, said 12 Algerian and foreign workers had been killed since Algerian special forces began an assault against the kidnappers Thursday. It was the highest civilian death toll Algerian officials have provided in the aftermath of the assault, which freed captives and killed kidnappers but also left some hostages dead in one of the worst mass abductions of foreign workers in years.

Previous unofficial estimates of the foreign casualties have ranged from four to 35.

The senior Algerian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he believed there were about 10 hostages, under the control of possibly 13 to 15 militants, but he emphasized that ‘‘nothing is certain’’ about the numbers, which have varied wildly since the crisis began. He also said there were other workers on the site ‘‘who are still in hiding’’ but that the Algerian military had secured the residential part of the gas-field complex.

Earlier Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that not all Americans had been freed. ‘‘We have American hostages,’’ Nuland told reporters, offering the first update on what was known about US citizens since officials confirmed Thursday that seven or eight of them had been inside the gas-field complex.

Nuland also said the United States would not consider a reported offer made by the kidnappers to exchange two Americans for two prominent figures imprisoned in the United States — Omar Abdel Rahman, a sheik convicted of plotting to bomb New York landmarks, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman convicted of shooting two US soldiers in Afghanistan. It was impossible to confirm that offer, which was reported by the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, a service that tracks jihadist activity on the Internet.

Intensifying the uncertainties, a spokesman for the militants said Friday that they planned further attacks in Algeria, according to a report by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, which maintains frequent contact with militant groups in the region.

The Algerian military operation to end the gas-field siege was done without consulting foreign governments whose citizens worked at the facility. It has been marked by a fog of conflicting reports, compounded by the remoteness of the facility, near a town called In Amenas hundreds of miles across the desert from the Algerian capital, Algiers, and close to the Libyan border.

The Algerian fighters had been prepared to attack the gas complex for nearly two months, the militants’ spokesman said, according to the ANI report, because they believed that the Algerian government ‘‘was surely going to be the ally of France’’ in the Malian conflict.

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