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Algeria-Mali: Bloodshed And Fright In Attack On Desert Outpost …

  • January 19th, 2013
  • Posted by EUEditor

terror-algeria-gas-plant-1-13.jpgNight settled on the Saharan outpost of Tiguentourine, Algeria on Friday, with gross confusion over the fate of hostages, several from Western countries; taken in a terrorist assault on the Amenas natural gas installation there.

It was linked to the war developing in the neighbouring state of Mali, between the government side and Islamist insurgents.

“SIGNED IN BLOOD” INSURGENTS STRIKE

In the Algerian crisis, an armed group claiming such names as “Signed in Blood”, affiliated to the al-Qa’ida movement, raided the BP company plant on Wednesday (16.2.13), capturing hundreds of workers.

The raiders overcame some well laid-out security perimeters, possibly helped by former workers who knew the site.

They demanded that French troops be withdrawn from the fighting in Mali, where an international force was being assembled to oppose Islamist columns advancing on Bamako, the capital.

They demanded also the withdrawal of Algerian forces closing in around the Amenas site, but an outbreak of fighting on Thursday saw several deaths and the escape or release of captives, mostly local Algerian labourers.

SURVIVORS

A trickle of Western survivors flown out of the area by the Algerian air force included two Britons, an Irish man and a Kenyan.

The hostage-takers told African news agencies that 30 hostages were killed when they tried to move a vehicle convoy and came under helicopter attack – the surrounding Algerians determined to prevent any break-out.

Governments with citizens at Tiguentourine, including Britain, France, Japan, Norway and the United States, have objected that they were not consulted on the decision to go on the attack.

HAGUE QUITS AUSTRALIAN VISIT FOR CRISIS WATCH

Frustrated by lack of information they have mounted a crisis watch.

In Australia, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, left early for home, from annual bi-lateral defence and security talks being held in Perth (18.1.13).

Together with the British Defence minister, Philip Hammond, and Australian counterpart Stephen Smith, he had penned a new agreement upgrading already extensive military cooperation.

SHUT-DOWN AROUND SCENE OF THE CRISIS

In Algeria, the remote industrial plant remained closed off with a ban on cameras over the three days of the siege to date.

The United States was able to set up an aerial watch, and offered help in getting out the hostages; not accepted.

The Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, told a media conference (17.1.13) that the USA was working actively to prevent such crises, through an intelligence network of ten governments across Northern Africa and the adjacent Middle East.

CASUALTIES

Estimates on casualties in the fighting from several sources agree that at least 10 of the assailants have been killed, and at least 10, very likely more than 30 hostages.

Believed dead is the leader of the attack, a terrorist known to intelligence services called Abu al-Baraa.

The energy company BP said late on Friday a “small number” of its employees remained unaccounted for while the situation remained unclear.

It was conferring with its project partners and contractors on the site and bringing non-essential workers out of Algeria “as a precautionary and temporary measure”.

mali-map.jpgLate reports from the area said the terrorist group had retreated within the compound, still holding hostages, and wanting to exchange them for the freedom of two prisoners from their own movement, being held in America.

FIGHTING IN MALI

mali-officers.jpgOne thousand kilometers away, in the Mali capital, troops were arriving from Togo and Nigeria, the first part of an African force of over 5000, being brought in to help block an assault by the extreme Islamist groups on Bamako.

mali-insurgents.jpg mali-insurgents-3.jpg The local and international insurrectionists in at least brigade strength, over 2250, had last year occupied all of the Northern sector of the country, comparable in area to the country of Spain.

The government of Mali called for urgent help at the end of 2012 as that campaign extended into the Southern region, bisected by the River Niger, see map; its own army, demoralised, beginning to break up.

The  President of France, Francois Hollande, ordered in air support, and later the deployment of french ground forces.

STEADY BUILD-UP

mali-troops-3.jpg mali-troops.jpgThe last week has seen a steady build-up.

Allied countries including Germany and the United States responded to an appeal for support with logistics, sending aircraft; and the European Union committed to start a training program in desert operations for the national army.

Such action suddenly looked to be too late, as the outside African forces were slow getting there, and the insurgents, though pushed back from the strategic town of Konna, which they had held, unexpectedly advanced on a new front.

Additional French troops were committed, by this weekend 1800 strong with more on the way.

With Malian units they secured a bridge near Segou, see map, barring the route to invaders.

A footnote to the crisis: the failure of a commando raid (12.1.13) in Somalia, ordered by President Hollande, to try to free a French security official held by religious insurgents there since 2009. Two men were reported dead on the French side, one of them the hostage.

The crisis in Africa, especially with insurgency in former French West African colonies, is posing a political dilemma for Francois Hollande, who has announced fresh troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and would want to avoid a “bogged-down”, long-term military commitment.

Reference

BP, London, Amenas Situation Update, 18.1.13. http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7083543, (19.1.13).

Steven Erlanger, “Stakes for France Are High as Hollande Continues an Intervention in Mali”, NYT, NY, 18.1.13. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/world/europe/hollandes-intervention-in-mali-raises-concerns.html?_r=0, (19.1.13).

Le Monde (AFP/ Reuters), Paris, “Prise d’otages en Algérie : craintes d’un lourd bilan après l’assaut”, (Hostage taking in Algeria; fears of a heavy toll after armed assault), 18.1.13. http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2013/01/18/poursuite-de-l-operation-de-l-armee-algerienne-lourd-bilan-redoute_1818866_3212.html#xtor=EPR-32280229-[NL_Titresdujour]-20130118-[titres], (19.1.13).

Le Monde, Paris, “Les terroristes étaient très bien préparés et connaissaient le site“, (Terrorists were well prepared and knew the site), (18.1.13). http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2013/01/17/les-terroristes-etaient-tres-bien-prepares-et-connaissaient-le-site_1818837_3212.html, (19.1.13).

Paul Owen, “Algeria hostage crisis ‘ongoing’, says Foreign Office …”, The Guardian, Manchester, 18.1.13. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2013/jan/18/algeria-hostage-crisis-ongoing-says-foreign-office-live-updates, (19.1.13).

Pictures  msu.edu, rusi, voa

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