Printed on: January 17, 2013

Hostages taken by Islamists in Algeria

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- In a desert standoff deep in the Sahara, the Algerian army ringed a natural gas complex where Islamist militants hunkered down with dozens of hostages Wednesday night after a rare attack that appeared to be the first violent shock wave from the French intervention in Mali.

A militant group that claimed responsibility -- called Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade -- said 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, were being held after the assault on one of oil-rich Algeria's energy facilities, 800 miles from the capital of Algiers and 1,000 miles from the coast. Two foreigners were killed.

The group claiming responsibility said the attack was revenge for Algeria's support of France's military operation against al-Qaida-linked rebels in neighboring Mali. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called it a "terrorist act."

The militants appeared to have no escape, with troops surrounding the complex and army helicopters clattering overhead.