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HOSTAGE

Algeria hostage crisis: Two French ‘back safe’

Two French workers have returned safe from the hostage crisis in Algeria, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said Friday, adding that only a small number of French citizens were working at the gas plant.

"There were very few French on this base, which was particularly sprawling" and remote. "Maybe that's why it's difficult for information to get back to us," Valls told RTL radio.

"We have news from two of those who are back. Regarding the two others, if there were two others, we don't have more information at this stage and hope to have more later in the morning," he added.

Valls said it was also unclear how many people had died in the assault on the plant because of the "confused" situation on the ground. He was cautious when asked for a reaction to the Algerian military operation against the site.

"When we are confronted with terrorism, when we fight together, we should be careful with criticisms," Valls said, adding that he was not aware of all the conditions surrounding the operation.

"We don't know if the operation is over, so I am staying extremely careful about the analysis that must be done of this situation," he said. Asked about media reports that one of the hostage-takers was a French citizen, Valls said: "We have no information."

A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said Friday that the "terrorist incident in Algeria remains ongoing."

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HOSTAGE

Two guards freed at French prison as hostage standoff ends

An inmate armed with a homemade weapon took two guards hostage at a high-security prison in northwest France on Tuesday before both were freed unharmed five hours later, authorities said.

Two guards freed at French prison as hostage standoff ends
Police tactical units arrived by helicopter as the hostage situation unfolded. Photo: AFP
Police tactical units arrived by helicopter as the hostage situation unfolded at the Conde-sur-Sarthe Penitentiary Centre, which holds dangerous or radicalised prisoners and those with serious discipline problems.
   
The prisoner, armed with the improvised weapon, had taken the guard and the female trainee hostage during meal time, officials said.
   
The guard was released first and then the female trainee was also freed, both “safe and sound”, before the prisoner surrendered, the national Prison Administration Directorate said.
 
Photo: AFP
   
No further details were immediately available about how the guards were freed or whether it involved a negotiation.
   
A justice ministry source said the inmate has a history of psychiatric problems and hostage taking. He has convictions for robbery, rape and for the murder of a prison cellmate.
   
Elite police units had arrived at the prison by three helicopters, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
   
Security measures were increased in Conde-sur-Sarthe after a prisoner stabbed two guards with a homemade knife in March. After failed negotiations to end a standoff, security units launched an assault, wounding the prisoner.
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