Algerian forces have raided a remote desert gas plant where al-Qaida-linked militants seized hostages Wednesday.
A spokesman for the militants was quoted as saying 34 hostages and 15 of their captors were killed in the operation. Algerian sources were quoted as providing lower casualty figures, but there was no immediate official confirmation on the number of killed or wounded and details of the operation remained sketchy.
The Mauritanian news agency ANI said it received word on the casualties on Thursday from one of the militants at the complex, located east central Algeria.
The news agency reports Algerian helicopters attacked as the militants were trying to leave the complex with at least some of their captives. The unidentified militant told the news agency at least seven Western hostages were still alive.
Separately, Algeria's news agency, citing local sources, says the military has freed four foreigners. Initial reports the captives freed included a Kenyan, a French national and two from the United Kingdom.
Al-Qaida linked Islamist militants said they kidnapped as many as 41 foreigners at the complex on Wednesday, in what the militants call retaliation for French military action in neighboring Mali.
The gas complex is operated in part by British energy firm BP. In a Thursday statement, BP said said it was evacuating some of its non-essential workers out of Algeria.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliate in Mali told VOA seven Americans were among the hostages. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the kidnappings an act of terrorism.
French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that an unspecified number of French nationals were at the site. Hollande expressed confidence in the Algerian authorities handling the situation.
Article by VOA News