Commentary Update: The UK Telegraph reported today, that “up to five of the al Qaeda-linked Islamists who carried out the most spectacular and bloody hostage situation in recent years were employees of the gas plant.” One of the co-workers turned terrorist was said to be of French origin, and was killed in the rescue attack by Algerian special forces.
In a parallel story, the Telegraph reported that most of the arms used in the attack had come from the stores of Gaddafi’s weapons taken from Libya during the revolution last year. The terrorists blasted their way into the compound with AK104 of Kalashnikovs, similar to those used by Libyan ‘rebels’. They also brought F5 rockets and 60mm gun-mortars, the type used by France and the Libyan opposition.
The attack was clearly a well organized and well planned effort to target Western, non-Muslims working in the BP gas plant. The al-Qaeda-linked group was heavily armed and came prepared to destroy the facility and kill as many people as they deemed necessary. According to the Daily Mail, the combined death toll of hostages and attackers has now risen to 81, but the figure is still considered inconclusive. [Editor’s Note: Normally, GerardDirect does not include dead terrorists in the death toll of a terrorist attack, but in this case, since the numbers are so high, and still climbing, both numbers are relevant in describing the situation, and so we have included all the deaths.
As the story in Algeria unfolded over four days seige, it became clear that initial reports had greatly underestimated the situation. The number of hostages seized was far greater than first reported,and the final numbers of dead and missing are still murky. The state-run APS news agency reported that more than 650 hostages were freed and a second rescue effort by Algerian forces has been launched to find approximately 30 foreigners who were still counted among the missing. The report said 573 of those freed were Algerians, and another 100 were among the 132 foreign workers captured at the In Amenas facility. The current death toll has reached 81, although the Algerian government has warned that the count may still rise, as government forces continue to search the plant for both bodies and explosive devices planted by the terrorists.
The attack was carried out by a large gang of over thirty highly organized al Qaeda terrorists, fighting under the name of The Masked Brigade. The confusion surrounding the situation while it was still going on is understandable and the true numbers will be finalized soon once all the bodies are found and the personnel are accounted for.
Al Jazeera reported that the US has been very cautious as it tried to avoid any sign of US involvement in the rescue operations. According to the report, Washington was also careful to not be giving the “impression of invading another Muslim-majority nation”, according to Al Jazeera.
In light of the horror of the situation, in which tens of hostages may have died and others may be still being held, the remarks of a British hostage who said “it was fun” were unspeakably callous.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a statement that was predictably lame and laden with State Department jargon, but lacking in content and carrying no specific warning to the terrorists about any US reaction (see below).
Departing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made a much stronger statement (also below), leading to the possibility that as skeptical as we were when he was appointed, we may well miss him if he is replaced by Chuck Hagel.
As we have written many times before,Washington’s lack of suitable response in situations in which our fellow Americans are in mortal danger abroad, even as our government secretly supports opposition to the diminishing number of secular regimes, emboldens our enemies to strengthen their attacks.
——– Ilana Freedman, Editor
Algeria Hostage Crisis Ends in Bloodbath
IN AMENAS (ALGERIA): Seven foreign hostages and 11 Islamist gunmen were killed on Saturday, an Algerian security source said, when a Sahara desert stand-off ended in a bloodbath.
The heavily armed gunmen from a group known as “Signatories in Blood” had been holed up in the In Amenas gas complex since they took up to 41 foreign worker hostage in a dawn assault on Wednesday.
“The (army) assault took place mid-morning. Eleven terrorists lost their lives along with the foreign hostages,” the security source told AFP.
“We think they were killed in retaliation” for the army attack,the source said.
The gunmen, cited by Mauritania’s ANI news agency, said on Saturday they were still holding “seven foreign hostages,” denying claims of more.
” Signatories in Blood,” led by Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former senior al-Qaida commander in North Africa, were demanding an end to French intervention against Islamists in neighbouring Mali, ANI reported earlier.
Belmokhtar also wanted to exchanging American hostages for the blind Egyptian sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui, jailed in the United States on charges of terrorist links.
But state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “the United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”
On Friday, an Algerian security official had said troops were trying to reach a “peaceful” end to the crisis, before “neutralizing the terrorist group that is holed up in the plant and freeing a group of hostages still being held there.”
Amid a virtual news blackout in Algiers, harshly criticised by local media, world leaders took a tough stand on the fate of the remaining hostages.
US defence secretary Leon Panetta said Washington would “take all necessary steps to protect our people” from the threat of al-Qaida-affiliated militants in north Africa.
“Whether or not that involves assisting others with military operations, whether it involves developing in a cooperative way operations there, those are areas that I think remain to be decided,” he told the BBC.
Earlier, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton told a news conference with Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida of her deep concern “about those who remain in danger. Utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life.”
At least one American had already been confirmed dead before Saturday’s final assault.
On Friday, the militants gave a breakdown of three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and a Briton, although Belgium said there was no indication any of its nationals were being held.
An Algerian security official had put the remaining number of foreign hostages at 10.
Norway’s Statoil, which jointly operates the In Amenas site with Britain’s BP and Sonatrach of Algeria, said two Norwegians have been found alive but six others remain unaccounted for.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered his government to do everything possible to ensure the safety of those Japanese unaccounted for in “an extremely despicable” incident that “can never be forgiven.”
France, which said on Saturday that 2,000 of the 2,500 troops it had pledged were now on the ground in Mali, said on Saturday that no more of its citizens were being held.
Of the French intervention in Mali, foreign minister Laurent Fabius said at a meeting in Abidjan on Saturday that “France was obliged to intervene very, very rapidly, otherwise there would have been no more Mali.”
Algerian news agency APS quoted a government official as saying the kidnappers, who claimed to have come from Niger, were armed with machineguns, assault rifles, rocket launchers and missiles.
This was confirmed by an Algerian driver, Iba El Haza, who said the hostage-takers spoke in different Arabic dialects and perhaps also in English.
“From their accents I understood one was Egyptian, one Tunisian, another Algerian and one was speaking English or (another) foreign language,” Haza told AFP, two days after escaping during the army’s Thursday attack.
“The terrorists said: ‘You have nothing to do with this, you are Algerians and Muslims. We won’t keep you, we only want the foreigners.’”
Algeria’s El Watan daily quoted a former military officer as justifying the army’s assault on Thursday, saying: “All hesitation is forbidden when the future of the nation is at stake or being threatened.”
The final death tolls, of both foreign and Algerian hostages and of gunmen, was not yet known.
Read the original article here.