Fifteen foreigners and 30 Algerians being held hostage by Islamist extremists at a gas field in Algeria managed to escape from their kidnappers on Thursday, local media reported, citing officials.
"Fifteen foreigners, including a French couple, have escaped from their captors," the private Ennahar television channel reported, with the station's owner, Anis Rahmani, telling AFP that the information came from an "official source."
The French embassy could not verify the claim, which Algerian government sources also said was impossible to confirm in the current circumstances.
Earlier, the APS news agency said 30 Algerian workers had managed to escape from the In Amenas gas field in southeastern Algeria, where the Islamist gunmen, who say they were holding 41 foreigners hostage, are locked in a tense standoff with the Algerian army.
The militants said they seized the hostages, who are known to include US, British, Irish, Norwegian and Japanese citizens, after a deadly dawn attack on Wednesday, in retaliation for French military intervention in northern Mali.
The head of a French catering company said 150 of its Algerian employees were being held at the gas plant but while not being allowed to leave, were free to travel throughout the site.
The gunmen are demanding the release of Islamist extremists in exchange for the hostages and have called for the withdrawal of the Algerian army to allow negotiations to begin.
A Briton, a Japanese and an Irishman, identified as being among the hostages, took turns speaking on Al-Jazeera satellite channel on Thursday to demand the withdrawal of Algerian troops.
Algerian interior minister Dahou Ould Kablia has insisted that Algiers would not negotiate with the "terrorists."