A deadly standoff is taking place at a natural gas facility in the Sahara Desert, where Islamic militants are holding dozens of oil company employees hostage, and Algerian soldiers are attempting to free them. We're updating this developing story as it happens, and there are many conflicting and unconfirmed reports, but read our original post below for more background:
Updates (All times Eastern):
1:00 p.m.: The White House says it strongly condemns the attack, but cannot confirm that it is linked to al Qaeda. Still much confusion and uncertainty.
12:55 p.m.: Updates from the BBC: French President Francois Hollande says the situation is still unclear, but justifies his decision to intervene in Mali. Also, the kidnappers said there were 3 Belgians still alive as hostages, but the Belgian foreign ministry says it doesn't believe there were any Belgians there at all.
12:53 p.m.: The image below is a "glorifying" photo of the plant and Belmokhtar that said to be circulating on jihadist websites, suggesting that he may have been "martyred" in the operation. (via The Guardian)
12:48 p.m.: One of the many things that is still unclear is who exactly is responsible for the attack on the facility. The group that is said to have taken credit (and has been in contact with media outlets in Mauritania) calls it self the al-Mua'qi'oon Biddam Brigade ("Those who Sign with Blood"). They are believed to be an offshoot of the "Masked Brigade," which is itself an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an "affiliate" of al-Qaeda that operates all across the western Sahara Desert.