Sunday, January 20, 2013

More killed in Algeria hostage crisis

BAMAKO, MALI, January 20, 2013

Eleven militants and seven hostages were killed as Algerian Special Forces stormed a natural gas facility near the Libyan border in a final bid to end the four day stand-off in the Saharan desert, Algerian state media (APS) reported on Saturday. Algerian authorities were yet to confirm if the operation was officially over.

In a prior report, APS had said 12 Algerian and foreign hostages had been killed since Wednesday, when about 30 militants entered a gas facility — jointly operated by Norway's Statoil; Britain's BP; and Algerian state-owned Sonatrach — and captured hundreds of workers including American, British, Japanese and Norwegian nationals. Many hostages were periodically released, but about 30 foreign hostages were unaccounted for, according to the BBC.

The Algerian government has divulged little, if any, information since the crisis began. Foreign journalists have been denied visas, and the international diplomatic community was not informed about the progress of the military operation. There has been no official statement of the number of workers taken hostage, freed, or killed.

According to Algerian authorities, the raid was planned by Mokhtar BelMokhtar, a veteran Islamist who fought in Afghanistan and was, till recently, a senior military commander for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an al-Qaeda affiliate active along Algeria's borders with Mali on the west and Libya on the east. A group called al-Mulathameen has taken credit for the incident.

In a statement, the kidnappers said their raid on In Amenas was in response to French military intervention against Islamists in Mali.

Since early 2012, the Malian government has lost nearly two-thirds of its territory to a multi-dimensional insurgency in the north. Last week, France rushed troops, helicopters, and jets to Mali after Islamist rebels came within 50 km of the critical military base of Sevare in Central Mali. Algeria has declined to provide troops to an African mission for Mali, but has opened its airspace to French military aircraft.
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