U.S. and allied officials are working "around the clock" to resolve the hostage situation in Algeria, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said.
Earlier this week, Panetta confirmed that Americans are among those taken hostage in eastern Algeria Jan. 16 when terrorists attacked and occupied a natural gas plant. During a speech at King's College, the secretary departed from his prepared remarks to comment on the situation.
"I just received a briefing from my staff, and we are continuing to work very closely with the British government and with other nations ... to assess precisely what is happening on the ground," he said. "Even as we continue to try and gather better information about what has happened, let me make a few points."
First, Panetta said, "Regardless of the motivation of the hostage-takers, there is no justification -- NO justification -- for the kidnapping and murder of innocent people ... going about their daily lives."
Second, he said, "We are working around the clock to ensure the safe return of our citizens, and we will continue to be in close consultation with the Algerian government."
Third, he continued, "Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge -- not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere. Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide."
Shortly after his speech, the secretary attended an unscheduled meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron. As the two entered the meeting, Cameron was heard to say, "Let's start with Algeria."
Senior defense officials traveling with Panetta said the Algeria and Mali discussion took up approximately half of the meeting. It focused on policy rather than tactics, officials said. The two leaders had an in-depth discussion of the unfolding situation in Algeria, exchanged assessments and compared notes..
Cameron and Panetta also discussed budget issues, Syria, Iran, the bilateral relationship between the two countries and how they can work with other countries to address counterterrorism, officials said.
Panetta is in London on the final leg of a weeklong European tour which he has said is likely his last international trip as defense secretary before he retires. The secretary's previous stops on this trip included Lisbon, Portugal, Madrid and Rome.
Article by Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service