ALGIERS, Algeria - Algeria's state news service says nearly 100 out of the 132 foreign hostages kidnapped by Islamist militants have been freed from a gas plant in the Sahara desert.
The report by APS indicated a potential breakthrough in a bloody siege that began when militants seized the plant early Wednesday and reflected a significant jump in the number of foreign hostages involved.
The Friday report from the government news agency, citing a security official, did not mention any casualties in the battles between Algerian forces and the militants. But earlier it had said that 18 militants had been killed.
It was not clear whether the remaining foreigners were still captive or had been killed in the Algerian military operation to free them that began Thursday.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the U.S. is working with the British and Algerian governments to assess what's happening on the ground at a natural gas complex in the Sahara where Islamic militants are holding hostages from at least 10 countries.
The fate of many of the captives remains uncertain.
Speaking Friday at Kings College in London, Panetta said the U.S. is "working around the clock to ensure the safe return of our citizens."
Panetta says the terrorists should be on notice that they'll find no sanctuary in Algeria or North Africa.
He says anyone who looks to attack the U.S. will have "no place to hide."
The Pentagon says Panetta will meet with British Prime Minister David Cameron. They will discuss Islamic militant operations in Mali and Algeria.
The story has been a developing one, with solid information difficult to come by. Here is a list of what the AP says is solid.
- Islamic militants said they captured 41 foreign hostages at a natural gas complex in the Algerian desert. Some were killed in an Algerian military assault, though information is unclear and figures vary widely.
- ALGERIA: Hundreds of Algerians worked at the gas plant, but the Algerian media say most were released.
- NORWAY: Eight Norwegian employees of Statoil remain unaccounted-for.
- UNITED STATES: Seven Americans were hostages, the militants said, but they claimed only two survived the Algerian strafing Thursday. A U.S. official said late Thursday that while some Americans escaped, other Americans remain either held or unaccounted for.
- BRITAIN: British Prime Minister David Cameron says 30 Britons were unaccounted for Thursday but that number is now "significantly reduced." One Briton was confirmed killed in the initial attack on Wednesday.
- JAPAN: JGC Corp, which provides services at the complex, confirmed seven Japanese employees were safe and 10 others were unaccounted for. Ten non-Japanese employees are also alive, it said.
- PHILIPPINES: Algeria's state news agency said two Filipino hostages were killed. Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said Friday at least one Filipino escaped with injuries during the military operation and he had no information about any fatalities.
- MALAYSIA: Two Malaysians were held, the government says.
- IRELAND: A 36-year-old Irish electrician was among the hostages but managed to escape.
- FRANCE: President Francois Hollande said there are French hostages but gave no exact number.
- ROMANIA: Romania's Foreign Ministry says Romanians are among hostages.
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