There were unconfirmed reports last night that up to 35 people taken hostage by Islamic militants in Algeria had died in an air assault by state forces.
Algeria's armed forces laid siege to the Ain Amenas gas complex after the plant was seized by members of militant group Katibat Moulathamine on Wednesday - apparently in response to France's military action in Mali.
A news agency reported that Algerian helicopters had strafed dozens of hostages, including foreign nationals and British citizens, and that rebels were moving around the massive complex.
Rebel fighters claimed only seven foreign hostages were left alive, but an Algerian security official had said earlier that around 20 hostages escaped.
Foreign Secretary William Hague attempted today to downplay suggestions that the ongoing crisis was a direct response to the intervention in Mali.
"That is a convenient excuse," he said. "But usually operations like this take longer to plan.
"Whatever excuse is being used by terrorists and murderers who are involved … this is the cold-blooded murder of people going about their business."
But Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German accused Mr Hague of being "either a liar or a fool."
She said: "When France began its air strikes and invasion in Mali last week the rebels there warned its government that there would be retaliation."
"Blowback has come more rapidly than anyone expected.
"Hague is a completely incompetent fool. Anyone who does not connect the two has something completely wrong with their senses and has no place in politics.
"My fear is that if there are more deaths of foreign nationals it will be used as an excuse for further reprisals and the situation will escalate."
And while insisting no British troops would be involved in freeing hostages, a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron revealed that the PM had only been told of the botched rescue after it happened.
"We would have preferred to be consulted in advance," he said.
Meanwhile confusion also surrounded France's military adventure in Mali today as the ex-colonial power ramped up its military presence to 1,400 troops.
The town of Banamba was put on alert and Malian soldiers sped there after a reported sighting of jihadists in the vicinity.
Banamba is connected by a secondary road to the garrison town of Diabali, which has reportedly been encircled by French special forces and was the scene of intense fighting.
Residents who escaped Diabali said French bombs continued to hit Islamist positions there overnight but they said the town remained under the control of the radical Islamists.
Fighting erupted between Islamists and Malian soldiers in the central town of Konna, and the Malian army claimed to have recaptured the town.
French government sources continued to talk up the military action although there remained little to back up their claims.
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