World leaders concerned amid 'ongoing' hostage crisis in Algeria

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has decided to cut short his first foreign visit since taking office to focus on the Algerian hostage crisis.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Mr Abe, currently in Indonesia, will return home immediately after holding talks and a news conference with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono today.

Mr Abe cancelled his key policy speech and other events in Jakarta to return to Tokyo early tomorrow because at least a dozen Japanese remain unaccounted for in the Algeria crisis.

British Prime Minister David Cameron will make a statement to the Commons at 11am today about the hostage crisis in Algeria, the Speaker's Office said.

Algerian special forces stormed a gas plant in eastern Algeria yesterday to kill Islamist militants and free hostages from at least 10 countries. The fate of the terrorists and many of their captives remains uncertain.

The US government appeared to be in the dark about the hostage situation at a natural gas plant in Algeria, where troops launched a military assault to free dozens of foreign hostages held by Islamist militants.

An Obama administration official said the US was not aware of the raid to free the hostages, including an unknown number of Americans, in advance.

The government was offering no details about how many Americans had been taken and whether they were still in captivity or even alive.

Another US official said today that while some Americans escaped, others remained either held or unaccounted for.

The US condemned the militants for seizing the isolated plant 800 miles south of the capital Algiers in the Sahara Desert.

Militants with the Masked Brigade, a Mali-based al Qaida offshoot that has been speaking through a Mauritanian news outlet, said the Algerians opened fire yesterday as the militants tried to leave the vast In Amenas energy complex with their hostages.

They claimed 35 hostages and 15 militants died but seven hostages survived when Algerian helicopters strafed their convoy.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said US counter-terrorism officials were in touch with their Algerian counterparts and that she planned to speak to Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal for the second time in as many days.

She made a vague reference to ongoing US "planning", without elaborating.

"The security of our Americans who are held hostage is our highest priority," Mrs Clinton told reporters.

"Because of the fluidity and the fact that there is a lot of planning going on, I cannot give you any further details."

"This is a serious and sensitive situation,"

Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters travelling with defence secretary Leon Panetta in the UK that the military was actively seeking information and Mr Panetta had been briefed by senior officials.

Before the raid US officials had been urging the Algerians to be cautious in their actions, but did not know a rescue mission was planned, said the administration official, who spoke anonymously.

Militants said earlier they were holding seven Americans, but the administration confirmed only that Americans were among those taken.

"We are deeply concerned about any loss of innocent life and are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

During her conversation with Algeria's prime minister yesterday, Mrs Clinton expressed Washington's "willingness to be helpful", State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

They also discussed what type of assistance might be needed, Ms Nuland added, but declined to provide details.

A senior US military official said Algeria was offered hostage-rescue teams yesterday, but refused.

Ms Nuland said the United States was also in contact with American businesses across North Africa and the Middle East to help them guard against the possibility of copycat attacks.

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