Rescue workers carry the coffin of one of the hostages killed during a hostage crisis in a gas plant at the hospital in In Amenas January 21, 2013.
Credits: REUTERS/RAMZI BOUDINA
OTTAWA - Algeria's prime minister says a Canadian who goes by the name Chedad was the mastermind behind the hostage-taking crisis at a natural gas plant in Algeria, but Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird insists there is no confirmation of that yet.
"I'm certainly aware of the reports," Baird told QMI Agency. "We haven't been able to get any additional information from the Algerian government. We're working to get that information as expeditiously as possible."
Baird's comments come after Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal held a news conference to talk about a bloody siege over the weekend that ended the hostage crisis.
"A Canadian was among the militants," said Sellal. "He was co-ordinating the attack."
Separately, an Algerian security source said documents found on two of the Islamists involved in he hostage-taking identified them as Canadians.
The Algerian military responded in force after about 40 al-Qaida-linked terrorists raided the gas plant near the Libyan border last week.
Some hostages managed to escape, but many others died along with their captors during the Algerian military operation.
The overall death toll has reached 67, with workers from the United States, Britain, France, Japan, Romania, Norway and the Philippines either dead or missing.
Reports of Canadian involvement in terrorism abroad got under the skin of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
He took to Twitter on Monday to say he "can't begin to understand those who turn their backs on Canada to embrace the death cult of jihadi extremism."
The House of Commons is in the process of making it easier for authorities to prosecute a Canadian citizen who goes abroad with the intention committing a terrorist act.
A Conservative bill setting out 14-year maximum penalties has already made it through the Senate, and is due to face third reading in the Commons.
The director of Canada's spy service, Richard Fadden, has testified before a Senate committee that at least 60 Canadian citizens have gone abroad for terror-related activities.
"It is certainly my hope that the new provisions in Bill S-7 that create offences for leaving or attempting to leave Canada to commit certain terrorist offences will help prevent some of this activity," Fadden said last April.
The bill has Liberal support, but the NDP and Bloc Quebecois oppose it. There's no timeline yet for its full passage.
- with files from Jessica Murphy, Brigitte Pellerin and Reuters