ALGIERS, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Algerian army troops on Thursday freed at least four hostages that were held by al-Qaida- linked armed militants in a gas-field compound of Tingatourine in the southernmost province of Illizi after a raid to rescue the kidnapped, according to the APS news agency.
The four were two Britons, one Frenchman and a Kenyan national, the APS said, adding that an unspecified number of people were killed in the rescue raid.
Meanwhile, nearly 600 Algerian workers at the gas plant were released Thursday by special forces the People's National Army ( ANP), the APS said, without giving the conditions of released. It added that a total of 30 Algerian workers managed to escape on Thursday morning and they were transferred to safe places by ANP helicopters.
The information came as the local TSA news agency quoted a local religious leader as saying that the Algerian army troops have managed to take control over the compound. Knaoui Sidi was quoted by a report on TSA's website that the army forces decided to raid the compound after the kidnappers attempted to escape with the hostages.
Sidi said that "several hostages have been rescued," and "there have been several people reportedly being killed or injured, though there's no official toll of this raid." He further specified that the captors rejected to negotiate with the elders of the region to free the hostages.
Meanwhile, the Nouakchott News Agency (ANI) of Mauritania, which is in close contact with the kidnappers, said that seven Western hostages are still alive after the raid of the Algerian army.
Quoting a spokesman for the kidnappers, known as the "Battalion of Blood," the ANI said three Belgians, two Americans, a Japanese and a British national survived the raid. He also warned that the fighters of the armed group "will kill the hostages if the Algerian army continues with its raids."
Earlier reports from Algeria's local Ennahar TV said that the leader of the armed group, nicknamed Abu al-Baraa, was killed during the raid. It added that the vehicles of the captors were destroyed by the army troops.
The absence of official comments on the latest development at the Algerian gas facility has made rumors circulating concerning the fate of the at least 41 foreigners and hundreds of local workers who were held hostage by armed militants since Wednesday. Early regional and local media claimed that over 30 people were killed in the rescue raid, but the number could not be independently verified.
Labelling the kidnappers "terrorists," Daho Ould Kablia, minister of interior and local government, said Wednesday that they might be "entered from Mali, or Libya, or any other neighboring country," the APS reported.
On Thursday afternoon, some Western countries, including Britain and France, confirmed that they were informed about an ongoing operation by the Algeria military at the gas plant in Illizi.
The Tingatourine gas facility, which lies about 1,300 km south of Algiers and is located near the border with Libya, is the third largest in Algeria and jointly owned by BP, Statoil and the Algerian company Sonatrach.