ALGIERS, Algeria // The Islamist militants who attacked a natural gas plant in the Sahara wore Algerian army uniforms and memorised the layout of the vast complex, Algeria's prime minister revealed yesterday.
They included two Canadians and a team of explosives experts who were ready to blow the place sky-high, said Abdelmalek Sellal.
It also appeared the operation had help from an inside man - a former driver at the plant, he added.
Algeria also provided un updated death toll from the attack, saying that 38 hostages and 29 militants had died during four days of mayhem.
The dead hostages included seven Japanese employees and three energy workers each from the United States and Britain.
Three of the attackers were captured and five foreign workers remained unaccounted for, the prime minister said in the capital, Algiers.
The account he gave offered the first Algerian government narrative of the four-day standoff, from the attempted bus hijacking to the moment when the attackers began their preparations to detonate bombs across the massive gas plant, which covers an area of five square kilometres.
All but one of the dead hostages - an Algerian driver - were foreigners.
The prime minister said three attackers were captured but did not specify their nationalities, the conditions they were in or where they were being held.
He said the Islamists included a former driver at the complex, who was from Niger, and that they "knew the facility's layout by heart".
The militants had said during the stand-off that their band included members from Canada, and hostages who escaped said they recalled hearing at least one of the militants speaking English with a North American accent.
In addition to the Canadians, the militant cell included men from Egypt, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Tunisia, together with three Algerians.
"You may have heard the last words of the terrorist chief," said Mr Sellal.
"He gave the order for all the foreigners to be killed, so there was a mass execution. Many hostages were killed by a bullet to the head."
Three Americans died during the attack and seven made it out safely, according to a US official in Washington. The bodies had been recovered, he added.
The attack began early on Wednesday with the attempted hijacking of two buses filled with workers outside the complex.
Under assault from Algerian forces, the militants launched an attack on the main complex, armed with missiles, mortars and bombs for their three explosives experts, Mr Sellal said.
He praised the quick wits of a guard who set of an alarm that stopped the flow of gas and warned workers of an imminent attack.
"It was thanks to him that the factory was protected," he added.
Five foreigners remained unaccounted for, Mr Sellal said.
Japan's prime minister said seven Japanese citizens had been killed and three others were missing.
Sellal said the facility had 790 Algerian workers and 134 foreigners from 26 countries.
The Algerians were freed during the early stages of the stand-off.
Hostages who escaped said the attackers immediately separated the foreigners, forcing some of them to wear explosive belts.