OTTAWA – Canada was making little headway Wednesday in firmly establishing whether any of its nationals were part of a group of terrorists linked to al-Qaida who mounted a deadly siege at an isolated Algerian energy plant.
The federal government still has no substantial information from Algeria to confirm claims that Canadians were among the hostage-takers at the Sahara Desert gas plant, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday.
Canadian officials are still trying to get information from their Algerian counterparts, Harper told a news conference in Cambridge, Ont.
Harper said he has not spoken to Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, who claimed two Canadian nationals were among the band of al-Qaida-linked militants who took hundreds of workers hostage at a natural gas complex.
“People in our government are in contact with the government of Algeria,” Harper said.
“We have no substantial information at the present time on these particular individuals, but obviously we will continue to work with the government of Algeria to find out more about this particular matter.”
Canadian diplomats in Algeria are also seeking access to more details in order to either confirm or debunk Sellal’s claim. The Department of Foreign Affairs summoned Algeria’s ambassador to Canada in hopes of getting an explanation.
Authorities say 37 hostages and 29 militants were killed when Algerian forces stormed the complex. Five foreign workers remain missing.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said he’s not sure what else the government can do to get answers.
“There’s lots of questions, not many answers,” he said.
“You would hope (Canada) has strong enough relations with Algeria that we’d be getting the straight goods. Not clear that’s the case.”
Rick Roth, the spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said Wednesday that the government has received “no information” from the Algerian government about the identities of the people it believes are Canadian.
“We support the government of Algeria in its ongoing struggle with terrorism,” Roth said in an email.
Meanwhile, the Algerian government moved to play down reports that it has suffered heavy losses during the four-day siege of the plant.
Its defence ministry said eight soldiers suffered minor wounds and were now back to work.