ALGIERS, Algeria - Islamist militants have told a Mauritanian news outlet that Algerian military helicopters strafed the gas complex where they are holding hostages, killing 35 of the foreigners and 15 of the kidnappers.
The spokesman for the Masked Brigade, which had earlier claimed responsibility for the assault Wednesday on the gas complex deep in the Sahara desert, said Thursday that Abou El Baraa, the leader of the kidnappers, was also killed in the helicopter attack.
The information came from the Nouakchott Information Agency, which has often carried reports from al-Qaida-linked extremist groups.
The militant spokesman said the kidnappers were attacked by Algerian helicopters when they attempted to leave the complex.
The Algerian government would not immediately comment on the standoff and the Associated Press was not able to independently confirm the information.
Algerian security officials: Hostages, including Americans, have escaped
An Algerian security official says at least 20 foreigners have escaped from the natural gas plant deep in the Sahara desert where Islamist militants are holding dozens of hostages.
The official said those escaping included Americans and Europeans. He did not give any further details.
Militants attacked the Ain Amenas gas complex 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of Algiers on Wednesday, taking dozens of foreign workers hostage. Those being held included Japanese, Britons, French, Americans, Malaysians and Norwegians, among others.
The gas plant has been surrounded by the Algerian army and there's now a tense standoff with the militants.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.