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Hints of a bloodbath: Hostage secretly took photos during Algeria siege

Kyodo via AP

An Islamic militant (in camouflage uniform, rear right) stands near Algerian employees who were forced to leave their living quarters with their belongings at the In Amenas natural gas complex in Algeria on Jan. 16.

The images are striking for what they don’t show. They hold only hints of the bloodshed to come.

The Japanese news agency Kyodo has released the first photographs from inside a hostage crisis in the North African nation of Algeria, secretly snapped by one of the captives with a cellphone camera.

Islamist fighters stormed a gas field and nearby barracks on Jan. 16 and took hundreds of people hostage. The Algerian army launched a rescue raid the following day, opening a three-day standoff.

It ended in a bloody clash. The Algerian government put the death toll at 67, including 38 foreign workers and 29 militants. The U.S. State Department said that three Americans were among those killed.

The photos released by Kyodo depict the opening hours of the crisis. They show a scene that -- while certainly not safe -- appeared stable.

In one shot, an Islamic militant, armed and wearing a mask and camouflage uniform, stands several feet away from three Algerian workers who had been forced to leave their living quarters. One of the three is wearing a hoodie, and another has his hands stuffed in his pockets.

Kyodo via Reuters

An Islamic militant (rear center, in camouflage) stands among Algerian employees who were forced to leave their living quarters with their belongings at the In Amenas natural gas complex on Jan. 16.

In a second photo, Algerian workers stand around among duffel bags and plastic water bottles arranged on the ground outside. A militant appears in the background, facing away, easy to miss but for the butt of his rifle.

A third picture is far more ominous: In the foreground are several militants, in the background at least a dozen hostages, forced to sit against a wall of the complex.

Kyodo via AP

Islamic militants stand in front of foreign hostages, seen sitting against a wall, at the Ain Amenas natural gas complex on Jan. 16.

Kyodo did not say how it had obtained the photos. A Japanese government source said on Monday that the Algerian government listed nine Japanese killed in the siege, the highest toll among non-Algerians working at the site.