---- — Algerian hostage siege ends as special forces storm gas complex; at least 23 hostages dead
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — In a bloody finale, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end a standoff with Islamist extremists that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved, the Algerian government said.
With few details emerging from the remote site in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed on Saturday — seven — was how many the militants had said that morning they still had. The government described the toll as provisional and some foreigners remained unaccounted for.
The siege at Ain Amenas transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world, then held them hostage surrounded by the Algerian military and its attack helicopters for four tense days that were punctuated with gun battles and dramatic tales of escape.
Algeria’s response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation — first on Thursday, then on Saturday.
“To avoid a bloody turn of events in response to the extreme danger of the situation, the army’s special forces launched an intervention with efficiency and professionalism to neutralize the terrorist groups that were first trying to flee with the hostages and then blow up the gas facilities,” Algeria’s Interior Ministry said in a statement about the standoff.
Residents say Islamists leave Malian town of Diabaly after days of French airstrikes
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Radical Islamists have fled a key Malian town on foot following French airstrikes that began after they seized Diabaly nearly one week ago, the Malian military and fleeing residents said late Saturday.
Malian military spokesman Capt. Modibo Traore said Saturday evening that soldiers had secured the town.
The departure of the Islamists from Diabaly marks a success for the French-led military intervention that began Jan. 11 to oust the Islamists from northern and central Mali.
Earlier in the week, the Malian military was able to retake another key town, Konna, whose capture had sparked the French intervention.
“The Islamists began leaving the town on foot yesterday heading east,” said a Malian intelligence officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists. “They tried to hijack a car, but the driver didn’t stop and they fired on the car and killed the driver.”
Analysis: House Republicans look for political advantage despite poor poll ratings
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — Celebration doesn’t seem to be high on the agenda as House Republicans, their majority renewed by the voters last fall, lay the groundwork for another challenge to President Barack Obama over federal spending.
And no wonder.
Their annual retreat had scarcely begun this past week when they were told that disapproval ratings for Republicans in Congress had risen to 64 percent in a poll completed a few days earlier. Only 24 percent of the public viewed them favorably in the survey, taken by David Winston, a respected Republican pollster.
A previous sounding by the same pollster at the very end of 2012 wasn’t much better.
At the height of the controversy over the so-called fiscal cliff — the most recent clash with Obama — 49 percent of those surveyed said negotiations on the issue were difficult because the tea party-heavy GOP opposed the president out of political motives. While the public strongly favors reductions in spending, only 42 percent said Republicans were acting out of a desire to implement cuts and deal with a debt crisis — the reason party officials and lawmakers themselves repeated tirelessly.