Discuss as:

Algerian prime minister: Canadian coordinated Islamists' attack on gas plant

Algeria's prime minister says a Canadian coordinated the attack leading to a bloody hostage-taking and siege. Extremists used rocket-propelled grenades and mortars to take over a gas plant. NBC's Keir Simmons reports that there are still an unknown number of Americans among the victims.

A Canadian national coordinated the Islamist militant attack on a gas plant in Algeria where dozens of foreign workers were taken hostage and at least 37 were slain, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal told a Monday news conference. 

Sellal said Monday that 37 foreign workers from eight nations had been killed and another five were still missing. He also said 29 militants were killed with three captured alive, Reuters reported.

He was speaking as dramatic stories began to emerge from hostages who escaped the bloody end to the siege at the Tiguentourine plant near In Amenas.


Reuters had reported earlier Monday that an Algerian security source said two of the attackers found dead at the gas plant were Canadian. That report could not be immediately confirmed.

Canadian authorities acknowledged that they were investigating reports of the involvement of at least one of their citizens.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

In a statement, Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs said it was "aware of reports that Canadians may have been involved in the hostage-taking in Algeria."

"We are pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information and are in close contact with Algerian authorities," the statement added. "Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms this deplorable and cowardly attack and all terrorist groups which seek to create and perpetuate insecurity in the Sahel countries of West Africa."

One American, three Britons and two Romanians have been confirmed dead by their home countries and Reuters, citing Japanese government sources, reported that at least nine Japanese nationals also had been killed. An Algerian security source also told Reuters that at least one Frenchman had died.

About 800 people, including some 700 Algerians and 100 foreigners, managed to escape after militants stormed the compound on Wednesday last week.

During Monday's news conference, Sellal provided additional details on the attack, saying the initial objective had been to capture a bus carrying foreign workers and hold them hostage. He also said the attackers tried to blow up the gas facility by planting explosives in a gas pipe and trying to detonate it Friday night.

Algerian troops launched their first raids on the site on Thursday, but the standoff continued until Saturday, when government forces captured or killed the remaining militants and ended the siege.

Among the escaped hostages was Alan Wright, 37, of Scotland, one of 22 Britons who survived the ordeal and were flown back to the U.K. 

'Really bad situation'
Wright told ITV News that he had gone to work as usual Wednesday, but then the power went out.

"We thought it was just a normal shutdown," he said. "Then somebody said, 'There's been a terrorist attack.'"

Wright described gathering food, water and satellite phones and hiding in an office with his co-workers. They huddled there as chaos ensued.

"You could hear gunfire outside, machine-gun fire and mortars and everything going off," he said. "Sometimes rapidly, sometimes quiet for a while, but we knew it was a really, really bad situation."

Echorouk Elyaoumi / AP

Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found "numerous" new bodies on Sunday as they searched for explosive traps.

Wright said Algerian employees among the group eventually decided they were better off making an escape attempt.

They provided clothing and hats to help the foreign workers "blend in," he said, and cut a hole in a fence to escape.

They were spotted by Algerian soldiers, who rescued them.

"I'm just delighted to be home," Wright said. "My thoughts now are with my friends and their families who don't know what's happened to their loved ones."

The terrorist monitoring service SITE said Monday that the al-Qaida-linked Mulathameen Brigade, which claimed the mass hostage-taking, threatened to carry out more attacks unless Western powers ended what it called an assault on Muslims in neighboring Mali, Reuters reported.

Reuters and ITV News contributed to this report.

 Related content:

 Islamist insurgents melt away as French troops advance in Mali

Violence in Mali, Algeria raises fresh fear of radical Islam

Expert: Islamists' Algeria raid could inspire copycat attacks