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Speculation grows over ‘French jihadist’ in Algeria
French and Algerian intelligence sources claim that at least one of the militants who staged the deadly takeover at the In Amenas gas plant was a French national, according to media reports on Monday, but Paris says it cannot verify the information.
A French jihadist was among the extremist militants who staged last week's deadly takeover of the In Amenas gas plant in the Algerian desert and sparked a hostage situation that ended in tragedy over the weekend, according to intelligence and judicial sources in Algiers and Paris quoted by a French newspaper.
Citing unnamed police and justice ministry sources, Le Parisien wrote on Monday there was “at least one Frenchman” in the Islamist group. Frédéric Helbert, an investigative reporter specialising in counter-terrorism, said Algerian intelligence sources confirmed there was one Frenchman in the commando unit and provided the alleged terrorist’s name to France’s DCRI domestic security agency.
The information appeared to add weight to media reports that began circulating last Friday, after hostages who survived the original terrorist siege, and two bloody Algerian operations to retake the gas facility, said some of the militants spoke French and English, besides Arabic.
Helbert also wrote on his blog that a source at France’s DCRI agency said the name provided by Algerian intelligence could not be found on any of his agency’s files.
The source wondered if the Algerians had provided false information to lead French investigators off course, citing a bitter feud between French and Algerian intelligence agencies dating back to the Algerian war of independence.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls told reporters on January 20 he “did not believe” there was a French jihadist in In Amenas, warning the press about relaying false “rumours”.
In an interview with Le Parisien, Yves Trotignon, a former member of France’ DGSE spy agency, said: “We will find out if there were Tunisians, Libyans, Chadians, but also Salafists from Europe.”
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the veteran Algerian Islamist fighter, claimed responsibility for the attack in a video in which he said it had been carried out by forty jihadists “from different Muslim countries, and even from Europe”.
The alleged French jihadist was reportedly killed during one of the rescue missions by Algerian forces.
The final death toll from the hostage crisis remains unclear, with Algerian authorities expected to give more information on the assault on Monday afternoon. At least one French hostage died at In Amenas, according to reports.