David Cameron has just finished delivering his Commons statement on the hostage crisis in Algeria. He told MPs that last night the number of British citizens at risk was “less than 30”, adding that this number had been “significantly reduced” since but that he was unable to say more at this stage. In other words, there are Britons who remain unaccounted for.
With a hint of frustration in his voice, Cameron also revealed that he only learned of the operation by Algerian forces on Thursday morning “while it was taking place”.
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.
But while clearly disappointed by the conduct of the Algerian government, Cameron also emphasised several times that the responsibility for the hostage-taking laid with the terrorists alone, who are believed to be operating under veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, described by Cameron as “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.”
Cameron also reflected on the “heavy price” paid by Algeria over many years “fighting against a savage terrorist campaign”.