A bloody Algerian military raid on a gas field seized by Islamist militants has resulted in the death of at least several foreign nationals. Foreign governments have expressed concern at being kept in the dark over the operation.
Algerian security forces stormed a gas plant seized by Islamist militants in eastern Algeria on January 17, but several hostages were killed along with the captors in what appears to have been a highly questionable and chaotic rescue attempt.
At least seven foreign nationals were killed after Algerian forces launched the operation, according to a security source quoted by Reuters. However, the kidnappers report that 34 captives died in the assault.
There are no official figures as yet, and several conflicting reports on the number of dead, injured and missing.
Local and foreign sources said the site was still surrounded early Friday by Algerian special forces and some hostages remained inside.
Militants originally stated they were holding 41 foreign nationals and more than 150 Algerians after they seized control before dawn on Wednesday. The hostage-takers demanded Algeria close its airspace to French fighter jets bombing Islamist targets in northern Mali and on France to end its military intervention there.
Several Algerian sources said security forces were given the green light to attack the Islamists after the heavily armed kidnappers asked for safe passage to leave the country with the hostages.
Foreign leaders collectively expressed dismay and irritation at Algeria for their handling of the situation and for being kept in the dark about the Algerian military operation.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg all said their countries were not consulted or given prior notice ahead of the deadly assault.
“Already we know of one (Briton) who has died," Cameron said. "It is a very dangerous, very uncertain, a very fluid situation and I think we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of bad news ahead.”
Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among at least seven foreigners killed, according to the Algerian security source contacted by Reuters. Eight dead hostages were Algerian.
Another source told the Associated Press that Filipinos and Algerians were also among those killed. Many Americans, Britons, French, Norwegians, Romanians, Malaysians, Japanese and Algerians remain unaccounted for.
Dozens of other foreigners reportedly escaped, along with around 600 local Algerian workers, who had been not been as securely guarded by the militants.
Japanese construction company JGC said it had confirmed the safety of three out of its 17 Japanese staff and one Filipino.
France said the events in Algeria merely underscored the importance of its military operation in Mali. “What is happening in Algeria justifies all the more the decision I made in the name of France to intervene in Mali in line with the UN charter,” said French President François Hollande.
Algeria stands firm on raid
Despite the alarm voiced by foreign governments, Algeria refuses to acknowledge it made the wrong decision in storming the plant.
“We say that in the face of terrorism, yesterday as today as tomorrow, there will be no negotiation, no blackmail, no respite in the struggle against terrorism,” Communication Minister Mohand Said Oubelaid told APS news agency.
Oubelaid added that the military operation was “successful in neutralising a large number of terrorists and freeing a large number of hostages, but unfortunately, we are sorry to say, there were some deaths and injuries". He avoided giving specific figures.
Oubelaid also stated that the militants came from several different countries besides Algeria, including France and Mali.
In light of the dramatic events at the In Amenas gas field run by British energy giant BP, Norway's Statoil and Algerian energy firm Sonatrach, foreign firms have begun pulling non-essential staff out of the country.
Date created : 2013-01-18