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By Peter Hoskin
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THE PRIME MINISTER (WITH, LEFT, HIS CHIEF OF STAFF ED LLEWELLYN) LEAVING DOWNING STREET TO DELIVER HIS STATEMENT TO THE COMMONS ON ALGERIA. © I-IMAGES.

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In
his statement about the hostage crisis in Algeria, David Cameron used the
phrase “continuing situation” — the rescue operation is still proceeding, and the
Prime Minister will no doubt have to provide further updates. There was,
however, one encouraging piece of concrete news: the number of British citizens
at risk, described last night as “less than thirty”, has now been “significantly
reduced”. Here is the full statement:

“With
permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the hostage crisis
in Algeria and the tragic events of the last three days.

I
am sure the whole House will share my disgust and condemnation at this brutal
and savage terrorist attack that has been unfolding in Algeria.

Our
thoughts and prayers this morning are with those still caught up in this
incident, with their families who are waiting anxiously for news, and with
those who have already lost loved ones.

Mr
Speaker, I have this morning chaired another meeting of the COBRA emergency
committee and just come from speaking again to the Algerian Prime Minister.

So
let me take the House through what we believe has happened, the steps
we are taking now, and what this means for our security and the fight against
terrorism around the world.

In
the early hours of Wednesday morning terrorists attacked a gas installation run
by BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian company
Sonatrech, in In Amenas in South East Algeria near the Libyan border.

The
terrorist group is believed to have been operating under Mokhtar
Belmokhtar, a criminal terrorist and smuggler who has been operating in
Mali and in the region for a number of years, and who was formerly
affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

Mr
Speaker, In Amenas is some 18 hours by road from the capital
Algiers.  

It
is in the middle of the Sahara desert and one of the most remote places in the
world.

As
a result it takes time to get a complete picture and the full details are still
emerging.

But
according to the information we have from the Algerian authorities the
terrorists first attacked two buses en route to the Amenas airfield, before
attacking the residential compound and the gas facility at the installation.

It
appears to have been a large, well co-ordinated and heavily armed
assault and it is probable that it had been pre-planned.

Two
of those travelling in the convoy to the airfield were very sadly killed, including
one British national, and his family were informed on Wednesday.

A
number of other workers were taken hostage by the terrorists in separate
locations both at the residential compound and the gas facility.

The
precise numbers involved remain unclear at this stage but the hostages included
British nationals, along with nationals of at least seven other countries and, of
course, many Algerians.

As
soon as we heard of the attack we initiated the government’s crisis management
procedures in both London and Algeria.

Our
most immediate priority was to establish the identity and whereabouts of
British nationals, to contact their families, and to do everything possible to
secure their safe return.

I
chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee – COBRA.

I
spoke to the Algerian Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon, and
then again on three further occasions.

From
the outset I have clear about our implacable opposition to terrorism and said
that we will stand with the Algerians in their fight against these terrorist
forces.

But
I also emphasised the paramount importance of securing the safety of the
hostages.

I
offered UK technical and intelligence support – including from experts in hostage
negotiation and rescue – to help find a successful resolution.

And
I urged that we and other countries affected should be consulted before any
action was taken.

I
also spoke to the leaders of other countries which had hostages taken –
including Japanese Prime Minister Abe, Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg,
President Hollande and President Obama. And I co-ordinated further offers of
support for the Algerians in dealing with the situation.

Mr
Speaker, during the course of Thursday morning the Algerian forces mounted an
operation.

Mr
Speaker, we were not informed of this in advance.

I
was told by the Algerian Prime Minister while it was taking place.

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.

When
I spoke again to the Algerian Prime Minister later last night he
told me that this first operation was complete, but 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
Algerian Prime Minister has just told me this morning they
are now looking at all possible routes to resolve this crisis.

Mr
Speaker, last night the number of British citizens at risk was less than 30.

Thankfully
we now know that number has now been quite significantly reduced.

And
I am sure the House will understand why during an ongoing operation I can not
say more on this at this stage.

Mr
Speaker, our priority remains the safety of British nationals involved, the
repatriation of those killed and the evacuation of the wounded and freed
hostages.

A
Rapid Deployment Consular team is en route to Algiers together with other
specialists.

And the
Algerian Prime Minister has agreed my request to grant access to our
consular staff to fly south as soon as possible to support those involved.

I
have also spoken with Bob Dudley at BP both last night and again this
morning.

We
are liaising closely on BP’s evacuation plans and have put additional civilian
aircraft on standby to assist them with their well thought through
evacuation plans if needed.

Mr
Speaker, we need to be absolutely clear whose fault this is.

It
is the terrorists who are responsible for this attack and for the loss of
life. 

The
actions of these extremists can never be justified.

We
will be resolute in our determination to fight terrorism and to stand with the
Algerian government, who have paid a heavy price over many years fighting
against a savage terrorist campaign.

This
is a continuing situation and we will do our best to keep parliament and
the public updated.

We
hope this will reach a conclusion shortly.

There
will then, of course, be a moment then to learn the necessary lessons

And
I commend this statement to the House.” 

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