Cameron: Number of Britons ‘at risk’ in Algeria crisis has been reduced

Jan 18, 2013

David Cameron shows strain as he criticises Algeria for not warning him about its assault on gas plant

DAVID CAMERON showed "the strain" of leadership today as he told the Commons that the number of British nationals at risk in Algeria had been reduced even further from last night's estimate of "quite significantly less" than 30.

But the PM has been widely praised for his demeanour and his decision to cancel his speech on Britain's future in the EU to concentrate on the unfolding hostage crisis.

Cameron "sharply criticised" the Algerian government today for not telling Whitehall it was about to launch a military offensive against the gas plant where 41 Westerners were being held.

Last night the PM said "significantly fewer" than 30 Britons were still at risk and today he said the number was even lower than yesterday’s estimate. He would not name precise figures because the rescue operation was "ongoing", but the Daily Telegraph understands the number at risk is "in the region of 10 or 12".

The paper says that number includes British nationals who are "still missing, not confirmed safe, feared to be at risk or known to have been killed". It was reported today that about 60 Western hostages are still unaccounted for.

The Guardian says "a number" of wounded hostages have been flown to Algiers for treatment and reports that one of the terrorists was captured alive during the rescue mission.

The Telegraph’s James Kirkup says Cameron’s Commons statement provided a glimpse of the real strains of high office. He says it is "rare" to see the PM show any signs of fatigue or stress, but today "dark shadows are visible beneath his eyes and he looks like a man who did not sleep well last night".

The Daily Mail says Cameron had "no choice" but to postpone his trip to Holland to deliver a speech on Britain’s future within the EU.

"Rightly, he understood his priority was the fate of the Britons who had been captured by a gang of murderous fanatics linked to al-Qaeda," the paper says. "Most of all, there was an urgent need to get a diplomatic grip on the situation after the Algerian authorities, disgracefully, did not bother to warn him that they were about to launch yesterday’s disastrously botched rescue mission, which left many hostages dead."

Writing in the political blog The World, Gideon Rachman says Cameron must be wondering if his "much-delayed speech" on Europe is cursed.

"The prime minister might now be wishing that the whole ill-starred project could be quietly called off," he writes. "Some in Downing Street have indeed begun to float this suggestion that the speech may now never be given – particularly [as] some of its contents have already been trailed."

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