"We are working hard to get definitive information about each individual caught up in this terrible situation"
| 20 January 2013
Foreign Secretary updates on situation in Algeria
Enter: The Rt Hon William Hague, Foreign Secretary:
As you know, the Algerian authorities have indicated to us that their military operations that have been taking place at the gas installation site have been concluded. The Algerian Prime Minister has confirmed that to our Prime Minister this afternoon. However, we understand that the site is not yet fully safe because of hazards such as booby traps and so they are still working on that .
We’ve had a team in the vicinity today, led by our ambassador who went down from Algiers They have been helping British nationals to get away from the area, working with other countries and coordinating with the Algerian authorities.
Our priority now is to work out exactly what has happened to every British national who might have been caught up in this terrible situation. I indicated this afternoon that we thought there were fewer than ten who were unaccounted for, and on the basis of all the information we have this evening we believe that there are five British nationals and one UK resident who are either deceased or unaccounted for, in addition to the one fatality that we had already confirmed. Now obviously we’re working hard to get definitive information about each individual. We’re in touch with all of the families concerned and we’re working closely with BP and with police forces across the country to give those families the support they need at this very difficult time.
We’ve been in close touch with the Algerians today and of course in preceding days. They’ve certainly worked very hard to try to save the lives of people from other countries. I think it’s actually too early to pass judgement on it. We are still in this phase of working with them and with other countries trying to get the information so I don’t want at this stage to pass judgement on any details of the operation, some of which of course we don’t yet have.
Reporter: “Do you regret though that they didn’t accept British offers of help?”
They are a sovereign country. That is up to them. Of course it’s right for this country to offer our help. But as I say I don’t want to at this stage enter into criticism or judgement because there will be a lot to be learnt yet about this operation. Our focus is very much on getting British nationals who have survived this ordeal back to the UK and away from that area and working out exactly what has happened to those who are deceased or unaccounted for.
Reporter: “And you have planes on standby for that?”
An aircraft is available to bring home some of those nationals. So yes they should be coming home that way.
Speaking earlier, in the day William Hague said:
At Ain Amenas in Algeria this situation is still going on. It remains a very difficult and dangerous situation. Of course our priority remains the welfare and safety of British nationals caught up in this incident. The large majority of British nationals originally caught up in it are now safe and accounted for. As you’ll recall, on Thursday there were about thirty British nationals at risk. The Prime Minister explained yesterday that that number had been significantly reduced. As of now, there are fewer than ten British nationals at risk or unaccounted for.
But that of course means that we must continue to prepare ourselves for bad news and we are in touch with the families of all of those individuals and indeed we are of course giving all the help and assistance we can to all of the families of all of the individuals caught up in this terrible ordeal.
I have just spoken to the Foreign Minister of Algeria to impress upon him the continued need for accurate and up to date information and to give us all the assistance possible on the ground in Algeria and in that regard I’m happy to say that we now have consular staff on the ground at Ain Amenas. They are already assisting British nationals there. Our ambassador is on the way there with further staff and of course we have a team at Hassi Messaoud, the normal point for entering and exiting this area.
The Prime Minister will speak to the Prime Minister of Algeria later this afternoon. I will chair a further meeting of COBRA later this afternoon and this whole incident underlines the scale and ruthlessness of the terrorist threat that we and other nations face. We underline our resolve to deal with that and to defeat such terrorism and murder working with allies across the world and including in North Africa.
We have made offers of assistance. The Prime Minister in the past few days has made those offers of assistance. The Algerians have dealt with this situation themselves, they are continuing to deal with it themselves. And so we’re working with them in the ways that I’ve described.
We don’t talk about the disposition or presence of Special Forces, but this is, this has been and remains an Algerian operation and our priority as I’ve explained is the safety and welfare of our nationals. We continue to work hard on that.