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  |   Jan. 18, 2013 at 12:33 PM
Report: Half of foreign hostages freed

IN AMENAS, Algeria, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- More than half of 132 foreign hostages held by Islamic militants at an Algerian gas complex had been freed, the Algerian Press Service reported Friday.

It was unclear how many hostages were killed or exactly how many were still being held at the Tigantourine facility operated jointly by BP, the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach and Norway's Statoil.

The militants took the hostages Wednesday and the following day Algerian forces with aircraft attacked the complex.

About 650 people who had been taken hostage, including 573 Algerians, were no longer being held, the APS said. Its report said "over half" of the foreign workers held hostage had been freed, CNN reported.

Algerian Radio reported there was "ongoing activity at various locations" near the plant that some of the hostage-takers were using as a hideout.

A senior U.S. official questioned information coming from the Algerians, saying, "We hear one thing and then we hear something else."

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States was doing everything it could to ensure American hostages were returned home safely.

Panetta warned that terrorists "will find no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere. Those who attack our country or our people will have no refuge."


Al-Shabaab says French agent executed

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- A French intelligence officer held in Somalia by al-Shabaab since 2009 has been executed, the Islamic militant group says.

The militants said on the group's Twitter account that Denis Allex was executed at 7:30 a.m. Thursday in Bulo Marer, Shabelle Media Network reported Thursday.

Al-Shabaab had sentenced Allex to death after a failed attempt Saturday to free him by French commandos, Radio France Internationale reported.

French officials said after the raid that Allex was mostly likely killed during the raid. However, an al-Shabaab spokesman said the agent was still alive.


Bolshoi artistic director hit with acid

MOSCOW, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Bolshoi Ballet Artistic Director Sergei Filin was burned on his face and his eyes were damaged by acid thrown on him in Moscow, a theater spokeswoman said.

Yekaterina Novikova said Friday Filin had third-degree burns to his face and eyes and was being treated at a Moscow hospital where doctors tried to save his sight, RIA Novosti said.

Novikova said Filin's recovery could take at least six months.

The attack occurred late Thursday as Filin was walking home, the BBC said.

Filin, 43, a former Bolshoi Ballet star, beat out several others to become the ballet's artistic director in March 2011. Several dancers have resigned in protest over its new program, the BBC said.

The acid attack followed several months of intimidation, during which Filin received threatening phone calls and the tires on his car were slashed, RIA Novosti said. Shortly before the attack, an attempt was made to hack his Facebook page.


Crew of grounded U.S. ship moved to safety

MANILA, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The crew of a grounded U.S. minesweeper was removed and efforts were made to free the ship and prevent damage to a reef in the Philippines, the Navy said.

The USS Guardian had been stuck on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea since hitting it early Thursday, GMA News reported Friday.

All 79 members of the Guardian were transferred to two support vessels for safety reasons, the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement posted on its website.

"Several support vessels have arrived and all steps are being taken to minimize environmental effects while ensuring the crew's continued safety," Adm. Scott Swift, the 7th Fleet commander, said in the statement.

The reef is home to more than 1,000 species, many of which are endangered. It is a popular dive site and has been called one of the wonders of nature.

Speculation about damage to the reef would be "premature," said Lt. Brian Wierzbicki, 7th Fleet spokesman.

The Philippine Coast Guard said it would send a team to determine if the reef was damaged and if there was an oil spill.


Poll: 54% in U.S. want stricter gun laws

NEW YORK, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., seems to have swayed public opinion on stricter gun-control laws, a poll indicated.

The New York Times/CBS News poll found that 54 percent of Americans say they think gun-control laws should be tightened, up markedly from a CBS News poll in April that found that only 39 percent backed stricter laws.

A gunman killed 20 children, six adults and himself at the school Dec. 14.

The poll also found that most of 1,110 respondents -- about 90 percent -- said they would support a background-check requirement for all gun purchases, and about 60 percent of respondents said they would support a ban on high-capacity magazines, such as the 15- and 30-round magazines that have been used in several recent mass shootings.

The national poll was conducted Jan. 11 to Jan. 15, before the president announced his proposals to curb gun violence. It has a sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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