Cameron hostage crisis statement as-it-happened

Ian Dunt By

09:50 - Good morning. We are waiting for David Cameron's emergency statement to the Commons at 11:00GMT, which will be followed by a reply from Ed Miliband. The last Foreign Office statement said the crisis is still ongoing but the very fact he's making the statement suggests it is over. As every government minister has pointed out - we should expect the worst. The prime minister is currently holding a Cobra meeting, the third since yesterday.

10:01 - Two items particularly worth reading. Robert Fisk in the Independent offers a quick and characteristically opinionated account of Algerian counter-terror tactics, which appear to be defined by the mantra 'shoot first ask questions later'. There's an interesting test posed there - he suggests the British government will not criticise Algerian forces. Given the mood music from No 10 since yesterday, he may be wrong about that. And the Telegraph collates much of what we know about the rescue attempt into one account. I was particularly moved by the Belfast man who texted his family "not to worry" while a firefight went on around him. So British.

10:20 - One political victim of the crisis has been Lib Dem MEP Graham Watson who issued a catastrophically idiotic tweet yesterday after learning Cameron had delayed his Europe speech. "Al Qaeda 1, @David_Cameron 0," he wrote. Yeah, I know. Let that be your introduction to the moral and intellectual qualities of Britain's political class. He was sounding like his tail was wedged well and truly between his legs this morning though: "I wrote it at end of busy day in parliament in Strasbourg with no knowledge of how news of hostage crisis developed," he said. "In hindsight I recognise PM absolutely right to postpone Europe speech to deal with fast deteriorating situation."

10:27 - Half an hour until the emergency statement. Here are the full quotes from statements pout out by No 10, the Foreign Office and Labour, all of which came out yesterday evening. First, Foreign Office minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt: "As people will be aware, during the course of the day operations have been conducted by Algerian forces in relation to the hostage crisis. The Prime Minister has chaired COBR twice and been in touch with his counterpart in Algeria. The Foreign Secretary and I have been in contact with our international partners, with our Embassy in Algiers and various Government agencies have been working with BP in order to give them support and assistance in dealing with the crisis. Although details have yet to become final I am afraid we should be under no illusion that there will be some bad and distressing news to follow from this terrorist attack.  Those who have been working with the families during the course of the day will continue that work of advice and support, though this will take some time. We have already increased our consular staffing in Algiers and we are pressing the Algerian authorities in order to have access to UK nationals involved who are at the site so that we can help with repatriation and evacuation. You will appreciate that there is a limit to what I can say at present given ongoing security issues. All our thoughts should be with those who have been caught up in this tragedy and particularly with the families who have already suffered so much distress." Next, a Downing Street spokesman: ""This afternoon the Prime Minister spoke to his Algerian counterpart for a second time today. They discussed the latest situation on the ground and the Algerian PM explained the situation remained ongoing. They both agreed to stay in close touch. The PM emphasised the continuing need for the Algerian security forces to do everything they could to safeguard hostages." Finally, Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary: "Latest reports of the grave and tragic events unfolding on the ground in Algeria are deeply concerning. The priority must be the resolution of the crisis and the safety of the hostages and we offer the Government our support in their efforts to achieve this."

10:42 - More details are emerging which may help explain the Algerian reaction. The terrorists appear to have secured the plant despite not having any cover and with their movements blocked by a cliff on one side. This embarrassing failure of security, together with Algeria's pride in its ability to move on from the 1990's civil war which claimed so many lives, may have given commanders itchy triggers fingers. No one is more irritated by the Algerian reaction, by the way, than Japan, which has summoned the Algerian ambassador. JGC Corp says its two staff members are safe but there are 14 other Japanese nationals caught up in the situation who are still not accounted for. Tokyo, like London, explicitly demanded notification of any operation but was not told before it went ahead.

10:49 - Here's foreign secretary William Hague, just before he got on a plane in Australia to cut short his trip and return home: "I again condemn utterly the wanton act of terrorism carried about against workers in Algeria. I’m very grateful for the sympathy and condolences that Senator Carr and others have extended to us. This remains a fluid and evolving situation and many details are still unclear but the responsibility for the tragic events of the last two days squarely rests with terrorists who chose to attack innocent workers murdering some and holding others hostage. Our priority remains at the moment to identify exactly what has happened to each British national caught up in this incident and indeed to help other countries determine what has happened to their nationals. We sent additional staff to Algeria, we’re in close touch with the Algerian authorities and with BP, we’re working to ensure that those who survive this ordeal are properly cared for and reunited with their loved ones and that the families of all those involved receive full and accurate information and support."

10:54 - The prime minister has left Downing Street and is on his way to parliament through the snow.

10:59 - Should be ready to go anytime now.

11:00 - Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and George Osborne walk into the Commons together, in a sign of cross-party unity when it comes to events like these.

11:01 - There are a limited number of MPs. It's a Friday so most are in their constituency and then of course there's the snow.

11:02 - OK here we go. Cameron looks sombre as he describes a "brutal and savage" terrorist attack. He says he has chaired Cobra this morning and spoken to the Algerian PM.

11:03 - He explains what happened. Terrorists attacked on Wednesday morning. They are thought to be led by a criminal terrorist affiliated with al-Qaida. This place is remote, in the middle of the Sahara desert. According to Algerian authorities, they first hit two buses en route, before the residential compound and then the gas facility. It was large, well coordinated and heavily armed. "It's probable they were pre-planned." One British worker was killed at this stage. Others were then taken hostage, although precise numbers are unclear.

11:04 - The PM says he offered support to the Algerian government and urged that he was consulted. He also spoke to other world leaders, including those from France, the US, Japan and Norway. During Thursday morning Algerian forces mounted an operation. "We were not informed of this in advance. The Algerian PM said terrorists tried to flee. He said there was immediate threat to hostages. This is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists. "Last night the number of British citizens at risk was less than 30. That number has now been significantly reduced."

11:06 - Sorry for the typos - I'll clean up when we're done. Cameron reiterates that the people at fault are the terrorists. He says he stands with the Algerian government. Cameron's statement ends. Ed Miliband gets up. He thanks him. "The government has our full support, I want to thank him for keeping me informed."

11:07 - "It is appalling ordinary decent people have been targeted in this way," he adds. Miliband says he appreciated the PM is restricted in what he can say while the operation is ongoing. He wants assurances consular support is still there for families affected. Will he also provide information on how the government is working with British companies about security at facilities in the region? Also, any advice for British citizens in the region? Also, what were the motives and can he give an assessment of groups working with al-Qaida? Also, does he agree this is evidence of a growing security threat in north Africa?

11:10 - Cameron thanks Miliband for his support and his words. In terms of family support, its vital they get everything. They all have police liaison officers. BP are doing everything they can too. BP's statement said they are trying to repatriate staff from Algeria. Three flights left yesterday with the UK government providing a back-up service.

11:11 - Additional security measures are being put in place for nearby companies and they're all on high alert. In terms of travel advice, they advise against all but essential travel to Algeria. He says the terrorists are under the group AQM. They hit western interests wherever they can. The threat is growing in this part of the world. "Just as we have reduced the scale of the threat in other parts of the world so it has grown in other parts of the world."

11:14 - Malcom Rifkind, chairman of the security committee, reminds the PM that Africa is the "soft underbelly of Europe". The UK usually hasn't had a strong presence there, but there is now a case for a stronger intelligence and defence network in the region in cooperation with American and European allies. Cameron says that's right. "It's a problem for them and a problem for us," he says.

11:16 - Cameron is asked if he responded positively to all French requests for help in Mali. Cameron says he has. The Mali-Algeria connection is obvious but this operation would have required weeks planning, and the Mali strike started just a few days ago.

11:17 - Cameron is asked if forces across the region need training to improve performance (ie, not killing everyone) when these events happen. Cameron agrees. The MP has overestimated how welcome the UK's training might be in Algeria. Angus Roberston, SNP leader in Westminster, asks about coordination with the Scottish government for their citizens. Cameron says he's spoken with Alex Salmond yesterday and they're working close together.

11:19 - Keith Vaz, chairman of home affairs committee, says counter-terrorism has to be coordinated. These groups operate in Morocco and Tunisia. What assistance can we offer authorities there? Cameron says relations are good at a political and diplomatic level. "There are opportunities for information sharing but I would like to add to that military-to-military cooperation."

11:23 - In Washington, US defence secretary Leon Panetta just said the terrorists would have "no place to hide". He goes on: "Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge - not in Algeria, not in N.Africa, not anywhere."

11:25 - Cameron reminds MPs that when you're the government facing the hostage situation, you can have lots of planning and still find these events end badly, "so we should bear that in mind". Looks like Robert Fisk wasn't so off after all.

11:31 - Was a threat assessment ever undertaken? That's the first slightly critical question. Cameron says it is ongoing. But he "cautions" against the view that by not helping the French in Mali we would be safer. "Britain is a country that's open to the world, we have to work with people to make the world safer."

11:33 - Here's the full statement from Ed Miliband.

11:35 - And here's the full statement from the prime minister.

11:39 - Cameron is asked to reassure the House that all north African government condemned the action. He does so. The questions are starting to grow repetitive now. Cameron again explains discussions with oil companies in the region.

11:42 - Frank Dobson asks if any oil companies sought extra security from home or Algerian governments amid the heightened threat in the region recently. Cameron isn't sure, he says he'll look into it. Cameron is told by another MP that, while the attack is likely to have been domestically planned, given it was near the Libyan border is there any information about transnational organisation? Cameron says they are not sure it was planned in Algeria. His tone suggests it probably wasn't. Certainly it runs against what we've heard so far. No questions as yet on reports of at least one of the terrorists having a British accent.

11:50 - To what extent does evidence support the view that planning would have predated the Mali operation? Cameron says "it was some time in the planning". He says that even if Mali did trigger it, it would still have been the right decision to help France.

11:53 - Cameron again says he wants "respect and understanding" for the  Algerian government. "They felt they had to make decisions very quickly, they felt there was an urgent threat to life," he says. "I regret the fact we weren't informed in advance and of course the offers to help were made and still stand. " Cameron walking a fine line.

11:56 - And with that, the debate comes to an end. I'll keep this blog open but it will be updated more slowly from now on. Expect new content as soon as there are breaking developments, but not as regularly as ';ve been writing it thus far. Typos - before you start angrily writing in - will be corrected in a moment.

12:45 - Here's our updated news story.

14:45 - News is scarce, more scarce than I'd predicted, so I'll wrap this blog up now. The last thing to report is that a British team of experts has landed in the desert outpost of Hassi Messaoud, about 300 miles north-west of Amenas. On board are consular staff and intelligence analysts from MI6 and MI5 as well as hostage negotiation experts. OK, that's it for now. I'll close the blog down, but we have the Week in Review and the Political Week Online going up on site soon. Thanks for sticking around and let's hope for the best.

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