(Updates number of hostages and terrorists killed along with end of the operation.)

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At least 23 hostages and 32 terrorists died in an Algerian army operation aimed at rescuing the hundreds of people held captive by a group of Salafist terrorists since Wednesday in a natural gas complex at In Amenas, and which ended Saturday, officials said.

The Salafists had offered to free several U.S. hostages in exchange for the release of two Muslim militants behind bars in the United States.

According to the Algerian daily El Watan, the terrorists had given up all hope of leaving the gas complex and had begun killing their hostages, a move that prompted Algerian special forces to intervene.

Algeria's interior minister said in a communique cited by state news agency APS that 107 foreign workers and 685 Algerians were rescued in the assault by army special forces that began Thursday and ended Saturday at noon.

"The attack ended with the liberation of 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners, 32 terrorists neutralized and 23 people dead," the note said, without giving details about the nationalities of those who were killed.

The note also said that after the operation, the army confiscated firearms, two mortars, six C5 60mm missiles with missile launchers, two grenade launchers with eight projectiles and 10 grenades in explosive belts.

The Interior Ministry justified the rapid intervention as the only way to avoid more people being killed.

"To stop this from becoming a bloodbath and given the extreme danger of the situation, and taking into account the terrorists' intention of escaping with the hostages and blowing up the gas installations, the army's special forces carried out a precision attack to neutralize the terrorist group," the note said. EFE