About 10 Britons are listed as unaccounted for or at risk following the terrorist attack in Algeria, according to two government officials who declined to be identified because the incident is still ongoing.
Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier the number of Britons in danger had been “significantly reduced” after Algerian forces stormed the compound. He said the U.K. would “do everything we can” to pursue those responsible for the attack, which appeared to be “pre-planned” and “well coordinated.”
“Last night the number of British citizens at risk was less than 30,” Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons in London today. “Thankfully we now know that number has been quite significantly reduced.” In a statement at 6 p.m. London time, his office said it was “not in a position” to comment on the number of Britons involved.
A British plane is now on the ground in Algiers to bring home U.K. civilians caught up in the attack. British diplomats and Metropolitan Police officers who specialize in handling such events and their aftermath have also arrived in the country, the officials said.
Cameron spoke twice today to his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmalek Sellal, and he told lawmakers that the military operation, at a natural-gas complex operated by London-based BP Plc (BP/), Statoil ASA (STL) of Norway and Algeria’s Sonatrach, is continuing.
“He said that the terrorists had tried to flee, that they judged there to be an immediate threat to the lives of the hostages and had felt obliged to respond,” Cameron said. “This is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas of the site.”
The U.K. was not informed or consulted before Algerian forces started their assault, Cameron said. Britain offered assistance, including specialist hostage negotiators, he said. His spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters these offers of help were refused.
“We were disappointed not to be informed of the assault in advance,” Cameron said. Gray later said that all four conversations between Cameron and Sellal had been initiated in London. There was a further phone call between the two men this evening, after which the government declined to give details.
“We should show understanding that the Algerian government faces a huge threat from terrorists and they were facing a situation where there was imminent threat to life,” Cameron told lawmakers. “You can have the ultimate degree of planning and still find that the events can go wrong. We should bear that in mind.”
Britain will supply resources to help in the pursuit of the terrorists and their backers, Cameron said.
“We will do everything we can to hunt the people down who are responsible for this and other such terrorist outrages,” he said.
The amount of “ungoverned space” in countries including Mali and Libya helps terrorist groups bent on attacking western interests, Cameron said.
“We know that there are real connections between Islamist extremist militants in Algeria and those in Libya, we also know that there are very real connections between those in Algeria and those in Mali,” Cameron said. “They use whatever available ungoverned space there is in order to plan, build and thrive.”
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