Four hostages confirmed dead

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UPDATED: Four of the five missing employees of Norwegian state oil company Statoil who were among those taken hostage in Algeria on January 16 are now confirmed to have been killed. One of their colleagues still has not been found and is feared dead as well.

Statoil had announced Friday evening that the situation remained “unresolved” for two Statoil employees, and that neither the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor Statoil had “confirmed information regarding their whereabouts.”

Positive identifications
Statoil had 17 of its own employees working at the In Amenas gas processing plant in southeastern Algeria when it was attacked last week by radical Islamists. Twelve of them made it to safety but five of their colleagues remained unaccounted for.

A forensic team sent by the Norwegian government to Algeria has now made positive identifications of four of the dead brought from In Amenas to Algiers when the attack was over. Neither Statoil nor government officials would say whether the men were killed by their captors or when the Algerian military launched a counterattack on the gas plant to prevent the terrorists from strengthening their position.

Algerian authorities have earlier reported that 37 foreigners working at the plant were killed during the hostage drama.

State and royal condolences
Both Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and King Harald sent condolences Friday to the families of Hans M Bjone from Brandbu in Hadeland, age 55; Tore Bech of Bergen, age 58; and Thomas Snekkevik of Austrheim, age 35. On Saturday afternoon, Alf Vik of Austrheim was confirmed dead as well.

Bjone had worked as production manager at the In Amenas plant since 2009 and earlier was a production supervisor for Statoil on oil platforms in the North Sea. He was said to be an active hunter and outdoorsman in his spare time.

Bech, a former leader of the In Salah gas plant in Algeria and platform chief on the Gullfaks C and Veslefrikk fields in the North Sea, had been visiting the In Amenas plant when it was attacked. He also was the stepfather of Norway’s government minister in charge of foreign aid, Heikki Holmås.

Snekkevik, a department director at the In Amenas plant, had worked there since January 2010. He was educated as an engineer and also had worked on the Kvitebjørn platform in the North Sea.

Vik, age 43, was an engineer who had worked for Statoil since 2007. Agderposten, the local newspaper in Vik’s hometown of Grimstad on Norway’s southern coast, reported that Vik was the hostage who was forced to deliver a demand to his family that they and other families of the hostages should contact their embassies and demand that French troops pull out of neighouring Mali.

‘Evil and brutal’
Stoltenberg, speaking from Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum last week, called the terrorist attack “evil” and “brutal” and said he received confirmation of the deaths with “deep, deep sorrow.” Stoltenberg also said that it was “improbable” the Statoil employees still missing at the time would be found alive.

Victor Sneberg of Sandnes and Manndalen, age 56, remained the last captured Statoil employee still missing on Monday. Sneberg has been working as Statoil’s chief of operations in Algeria and had worked at In Amenas since October 2010. He was employed by Statoil in 1985 and earlier worked at the University of Tromsø.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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