Feds: Americans remain hostage at Algeria natural gas facility

Amid reports that most of the foreign hostages at a natural gas facility in Algeria  have been freed, a State Department spokeswoman said Friday that Americans are still being held by the Islamist militants who attacked the plant earlier this week.

Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to say how many Americans were still being held, nor did she provide details on the condition of any of them, including a Houston engineer who was among the captives.

“The situation remains extremely fluid on the ground,” Nuland said during a news briefing carried on the Internet.

Nuland said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had another conversation Friday with the Algerian prime minister about the effort by special forces in that country to free the hostages.

“We’ve been maintaining open lines with the Algerians all the way through,” Nuland said. “All of us have to put a premium on the safety and security of those hostages that remain and the operation that is going on.”

Asked if Americans remained hostage Friday, she responded, “Yes.”

While she wouldn’t provide many details about the status of rescue efforts, Nuland did make clear that the U.S. has no plans to give in to the militants’ demands to free some terrorists held by the U.S. in exchange for the release of some of the Americans being held at the gas facility.

“The United States does not negotiate with terrorists,” Nuland said.

Earlier Friday, the brother of the 57-year-old Houston man being held at the facility told the Houston Chronicle that the FBI told him that his brother was still alive and being held.

The Texas man is an industrial engineer who until October had worked for more than a decade for ENGlobal Corp., a Houston-based firm that provides engineering consulting services and systems to the oil and gas industry.

British oil giant BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach operate the gas field.