The Algerian army has responded to criticism over a deadly raid to free hostages held by militants at a gas complex in the desert, saying the action had prevented a “real massacre.” “The operation came in response to a decision by the terrorists to kill all hostages and perpetrate a real massacre,” a report Saturday by the Algerian independent newspaper al-Khbar quoted an unnamed military official as saying.

The official was believed to be commenting on Western criticism of the operation mounted at Algeria’s In Amenas gas complex, where militants affiliated to al-Qaeda began holding hundreds of Algerian and foreign workers hostage on Wednesday.

Algeria’s state APS news agency reported that 12 hostages had been killed since the start of the raid on Thursday. About 30 hostages were still unaccounted for.

In Oslo, joint-plan operator Statoil said two of the eight Norwegians held hostage were now safe.

“The special (army) forces are still trying to reach a peaceful settlement to the crisis,” the paper quoted an unnamed source as saying.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had earlier warned that the “utmost care must be taken to preserve human life.” Clinton has spoken with the Algerian prime minister, but she declined to provide details about the ongoing situation.

According to APS, 573 Algerians were freed by Algerian special forces, who killed 18 militants in Thursday’s raid.

Algeria, which is still recovering from a brutal Islamist insurgency in the 1990s, declared from the outset it would not negotiate with the militants.

The In Amenas standoff has been linked to the escalation in the conflict in neighbouring Mali, where France last week launched a military operation against Islamist militants controlling much of the north.

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