Hostage from Houston area killed in Algeria

WASHINGTON - Three U.S. citizens were killed in last week's hostage standoff at a natural gas complex in Algeria, while seven Americans made it out safely, Obama administration officials said Monday.

The State Department confirmed that gas workers Victor Lynn Lovelady, originally from Nederland, Texas, and Gordon Lee Rowan were killed at the Ain Amenas field in the Sahara. U.S. officials identified Texas resident Frederick Buttaccio as the first death last week.

Lovelady, 57, worked for ENGlobal from 1989 until October 2012, before he took a job working in the Ain Amenas gas plant.

"Victor was a dedicated family man and a fantastic co-worker, touching many lives at ENGlobal," ENGlobal Founder and Chief Executive Officer William A. Coskey said. "Vic was someone who took great pride in his work and who also mentored countless individuals during his tenure. He had a spontaneous wit and was an easy guy to know and love. Vic was a true friend to those that knew him and will be greatly missed."

Lovelady's family told KFDM television station that he felt safe working and living at the plant, where they had protection. His family said the job assignment in Algeria was a promotion.

"He was a great father," his daughter, Erin Lovelady, told KFDM. "I have so many wonderful memories of my dad. He taught me the tools to live as an adult. He was very kind, loving and laid back. I could talk to my dad about anything. He gave great advice."

No one answered at the Loveladys' home in northeast Houston on Monday.

Neighbor Laura Holloway, who lives next door to the Loveladys, said she was shocked and saddened by the news of Lovelady's death.

"It's horrible, horrible," she said.

Holloway said Lovelady and his wife, Maureen, had lived in the middle-class neighborhood for the last 1 1/2 years. Prior to that, they had lived in Beaumont -- located near Nederland -- and Lovelady commuted to Houston for work, she said.

"They're sweet people, good neighbors," she said.

Holloway said she and Maureen Lovelady would take walks in the morning. The last time she talked to Maureen Lovelady was on Friday, and at that point, Lovelady believed her husband might have been able to escape, Holloway said.

"She had thought everything was OK," Holloway said.

"I'm glad we were able to get some rescued, but we did lose three Americans," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said as he was leaving the Capitol, where he attended President Barack Obama's second inauguration. "That just tells us that al-Qaida is committed to creating terror wherever they are and we've got to fight back."

A U.S. official had told The Associated Press earlier Monday that the FBI had recovered Lovelady's and Rowan's bodies and notified their families. The official had no details on how the Americans died.

Militants who attacked Ain Amenas had offered to release Lovelady and Rowan in exchange for the freedom of two prominent terror suspects jailed in the United States: Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind sheik convicted of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks and considered the spiritual leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist convicted of shooting at two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration rejected the offer outright.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was still working with Algeria's government to gain a fuller understanding of the attack and to enhance their counterterrorism cooperation in future.

"We extend our deepest condolences to their families and friends," she said in a statement. "The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms."

Last week's desert siege began Wednesday when Mali-based, al-Qaida-linked militants attempted to hijack two buses at the plant, were repelled, and then seized the gas refinery. They said the attack was retaliation for France's recent military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighboring Mali, but the captured militants told Algerian officials it took two months to plan.

Five Americans had been taken out of the country before Saturday's final assault by Algerian forces against the militants.

The U.S. official said the remaining two Americans survived the four-day crisis at an insecure oil rig at the facility. They were flown out to London on Saturday.

The State Department's Nuland confirmed that seven Americans made it out safely, but said she couldn't provide further details because of privacy considerations.

Algeria says 38 hostages of all nationalities and 29 militants died in the standoff. Five foreign workers remain unaccounted for.

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