WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration said Thursday it couldn't confirm whether American hostages in Algeria were alive or dead, as militant kidnappers claimed 35 captives were killed in a botched Algerian rescue attempt.
The U.S. condemned the militants for holding hostage several Americans and dozens of other people at a natural gas plant.
Militants said the deaths occurred after Algerian military helicopters strafed the area during an attempt to free those being held. They said seven hostages survived, but White House, Pentagon and State Department officials would not confirm any details about the Americans who were being held.
"Details remain very murky over this raid and what has happened. We're assessing reports that the Algerians may have conducted some kind of action in connection with the incident but cannot confirm precisely what happened," a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in England.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
Militants earlier said they were holding seven Americans, but the administration confirmed only that Americans were among those taken.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday the administration was monitoring the situation closely and remained in contact with the Algerian government.
"I just can only say that we are deeply concerned about any loss of innocent life and are seeking clarity from the government of Algeria," Carney told reporters.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to speak by telephone Thursday with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.
During their conversation Wednesday, Clinton expressed Washington's "willingness to be helpful" and the pair discussed what type of assistance might be needed, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
She declined to elaborate any further.
"This is a hostage situation," Nuland said. "Our first priority is for the safety and security of the people involved."
A senior U.S. military official said the military offered Algeria hostage-rescue teams on Wednesday, but the offer was refused.
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