ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- Hijackers suspected to be Islamic fundamentalists held about 50 hostages yesterday after commandeering an Algerian passenger jet, officials said. Sources said the hijackers demanded fuel to fly to another country.
State-owned Air Algerie said there were 88 people, including six crew members, aboard the Boeing 737 when it was hijacked Friday night on a domestic flight from the Saharan resort of Ghardaia to the capital, Algiers.
The two hijackers, reportedly armed with at least one semiautomatic pistol, released 36 of the passengers yesterday in the eastern coastal city of Annaba, where the plane had been forced to land.
Air Algerie said there were 14 foreign nationals among the passengers. In Washington, the State Department said no Americans were aboard.
There were conflicting reports about the hijackers' identities. Transport Minister Hassan Kahlouche said that the hijackers, both male, were Algerian and that they had made no political statements or demands. "Right now, this only concerns a simple affair of common law," he said.
However, an Algerian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the hijackers probably were Islamic fundamentalists. Algeria is home to North Africa's most powerful fundamentalist movement, which took a majority of seats in local and municipal elections in June.
Negotiations to win the release of the remaining hostages continued late into the night. A ring of security forces surrounded the aircraft, although other flights took off and landed as scheduled.
Sources said the hijackers wanted fuel and water to fly to another country, possibly Tunisia, Libya or Egypt.
Late yesterday, Interior Minister Mohammed Salah Mohammedi said the hijackers would not be allowed to leave Annaba and suggested they were wearing down. "They're tired," Mr. Mohammedi said. "It's necessary to know how to profit from it."
In an interview with Algerian radio, an unidentified freed hostage described the hijackers as "delinquents" about 25 years old. She said at least one was armed with a medium-caliber, semiautomatic pistol.