Canadians in Algeria gas plant attack officially identified

Coffins are transported to collect victims on January 21, 2012, in In Amenas.  By Farouk Batiche (AFP/File)

Coffins are transported to collect victims on January 21, 2012, in In Amenas. By Farouk Batiche (AFP/File)

OTTAWA (AFP) – Canadian police on Thursday officially identified two Canadians among the militants who attacked a desert gas plant in Algeria in January.

The information came in the form of a public plea for help in determining when the former schoolmates, Xristos Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej, left Canada and who might have recruited them into the Al-Qaeda-linked group that stormed the In Amenas plant in eastern Algeria on January 16.

“The RCMP is interested as part of the investigation in determining the circumstances that led to Ali Medlej and Xristos Katsiroubas departing Canada,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superintendent Marc Richer told a press conference.

At least 38 hostages — 37 foreigners and one Algerian — and 29 militants were killed during a days-long siege of the plant and rescue operation by the Algerian army.

Katsiroubas and Medlej died during the siege, possibly by blowing themselves up. The RCMP identified their remains through DNA testing.

No ages were given but Canadian media said the men were believed to be aged between 22 and 24.

Canada’s foreign ministry has confirmed that a third Canadian who was reportedly arrested before the assault is being detained in North Africa, while a fourth man is said to be missing.

Asked if the fourth Canadian may have also died in the siege, Richer would only say that work continues on identifying remains. “The work with respect to the remains continues,” he said.

Canadian media reported that Medlej, Katsiroubas and possibly two of their former schoolmates believed to have been accomplices were under police surveillance in the months leading up to the attack.

But Richer would only say that the RCMP’s probe “has been ongoing for a number of months.”