Islamists are holding 41 foreigners hostage, including seven Americans, after an attack on a gas field in eastern Algeria, a spokesman for the militants told two Mauritanian news websites.
"Forty-one westerners including seven Americans, French, British and Japanese citizens have been taken hostage," the spokesman told the Mauritanian News Agency as well as Sahara Media.
He said five of the hostages were being held at the gas plant, while the others were in a housing complex on the site. Two foreigners, one a Briton, were reported killed in the dawn attack on a bus.
According to the spokesman who did not give his name to the two media outlets -- publishers of reliable communiques from the al Qaeda-linked rebels -- the attack was "a reaction to Algeria's flagrant interference in allowing French planes into its airspace to launch raids on northern Mali."
He called Algeria's attitude "a betrayal for the blood of Algerian martyrs slain by the French colonists."
The kidnapping was claimed by a group recently formed by Mokthar Belmokhtar, a notorious one-eyed jihadist nicknamed "the uncatchable", who has been sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia on several occasions in his home country Algeria.
He is one of the founding members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which later became known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but left the group at the end of 2012.
Belmokhtar is also one of the most prolific kidnappers of foreigners for ransom in the Sahel.