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Friday, January 18, 2013

Algiers ~ In Amenas hostage crisis

It perhaps aptly describes ‘operation success but …….’ The little known town is in news for wrong reasons…….

In Aménas is a town in eastern Algeria, near the border with Libya, known earlier for the natural gas joint development project (known as the In Amenas Gas Project).  This natural gas facility was attacked by Islamist militants on January 16, 2013 who took many foreigners as hostages.  Algeria's military launched a raid at the In Amenas complex; it was reported that the army had ended its operation, securing the main  complex. Algerian communications minister was quoted as stating that the operation was successful in neutralising a large number of terrorists and freeing a large number of hostages but unfortunately, there were some deaths and injuries.

On the afternoon of 17 January 2013, the Algerian military began an assault on the complex using helicopter gunships, heavy weapons, and special forces commandos. An Algerian security source claimed that 30 hostages and 11 militants were killed during the raid, which apparently took eight hours.  There are varied reports on the numbers killed,  but apparently many hostages have died in the operation to secure them.  When the operations took place, at least 180 Algerian workers had either escaped the complex or had been freed, according to local sources, with a number of others still remaining inside.

Hours after the operation by the armed forces, details remained scant – including for Western governments, some of which did little to disguise irritation at being kept in the dark by Algeria before the raid and its bloody outcome. Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed,  according to some reliable reports. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian. The nationalities of the rest, as well as of perhaps dozens more who escaped, were unclear. Americans, Norwegians, Romanians and an Austrian have also been mentioned by their governments as having been captured.

This crisis is result of  one of many Islamic terrorist insurgency attacks in the Maghreb since 2002, however the immediate motivation for the attack is reportedly was Algeria's opening its airspace to French warplanes in their attack on Mali's militants a few days earlier.  The crisis began in the early morning of 16 January 2013, when around 20 Islamist militants in three vehicles attacked a bus transporting employees to the plant,  before moving into the facility itself. The militants have reportedly rigged the plant with explosives and had threatened a "tragic end" should attempts be made to free the captives.  Some reports mentioned that the militants demanded an end to French military operations against Islamists in northern Mali in return for the safety of the hostages.

An Algerian government spokesman, who confirmed only that an unspecified number of hostages had died, said the tough response to a “diehard” attitude by the militants showed that, as during its bloody civil war against Islamists in the 1990s, Algiers would not negotiate or stand for “blackmail” from “terrorists”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said people should prepare for bad news about the hostages. He earlier called his Algerian counterpart to express his concern at what he called a “very grave and serious” situation, his spokesman said. The White House said it believed Americans were among those held but US officials could not confirm the number. Norway’s Statoil (STL.OL), which runs the plant with BP of Britain and Algeria’s state energy company, said it had no word on nine of its Norwegian staff who had been held, but that three Algerian employees were now free. The attack in Algeria did not stop France from pressing on with its campaign in Mali. It said on Thursday it now had 1,400 troops on the ground there, and combat was under way against the rebels that it first began targeting from the air last week.

An  Irish passport holder was lucky enough to escape after being taken hostage by Islamist kidnappers in Algeria; he reportedly had explosives tied around his neck. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he was "greatly relieved" to hear that the 36-year-old was safe, following reports that many of the hostages had been killed in an assault by the Algerian army. Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, its residents are entitled to hold both Irish and British passports. Media reports said McFaul was travelling on an Irish passport in Algeria.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
17th Jan 2013.

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