(EnergyAsia, January 21 2013, Monday) — A total of 55 people including 32 workers have been reported killed over the course of a four-day hostage crisis in Algeria that ended when security forces battled terrorists who had seized a BP-operated natural gas plant at Ain Amenas in the eastern central part of the country.

On June 16, the Al Qaeda-linked terrorists seized the plant that is part of a joint-venture natural gas project led by BP supplying about 12% of Algeria’s production. The Interior Ministry said its troops killed 23 of the terrorists who were believed to have executed several of their foreign hostages in the final battle on January 19.

A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed while some of the terrorists were believed to have fled during the chaos.

BP’s partners in the joint venture include the Algerian state oil and gas company, Sonatrach, and Norway’s Statoil to produce gas from the field located about 60 km west of the Libyan border. The project, which employs people from more than 25 countries, was targeted in retaliation against France and its Western allies for launching military attacks on Islamic groups in neighbouring Mali.

Among the terrorists in North Africa who have turned on the West are young men trained by the Pentagon, according to the Financial Times. As part of its global war on terror, the US poured US$620 million into providing military training for Algeria and Mali. Some of them have defected to join the very Islamic militant groups that the US had sought to counter.

BP, which has operating in Algeria for over 60 years, said it is focusing efforts on relocating its staff and ensuring their safety. The company said 14 employees at Ain Amenas at the time of the attack have been confirmed to be safe and secure, including two who have sustained injuries that are not life-threatening.

However, the fate of another four employees has yet to be determined.

Bob Dudley, BP’s group chief executive, said:

“While not confirmed, tragically we have grave fears that there may be one or more fatalities within this number.”

The attack on one of the country’s most important and well-guarded economic installations has raised questions over the security of Algeria’s daily production of 1.7 million barrels of oil and 214 million cubic metres of natural gas.

According to BP, Algeria was Africa’s largest natural gas producer and its third largest oil producer.