Print options

January 18, 2013

Anger, Fear Sweep Europe After Algeria Attack

by Henry Ridgwell

As the hostage crisis at a remote natural gas complex in Algeria continues to play out, there is anger in European capitals and beyond over the way Algerian authorities have dealt with the situation. The attack also has sparked fears for the vulnerability of foreign-owned assets across the region - and the implications for European security.

British Prime Minister David Cameron postponed a key speech on Europe to deal with the hostage crisis Friday. After chairing an emergency meeting with ministers, he briefed parliament.

"I offered UK technical and intelligence support - including from experts in hostage negotiation and rescue - to help find a successful resolution. And I urged that we and other countries affected should be consulted before any action was taken," said Cameron.

Dismay at Algeria's handling

Observers say that the diplomatic language masks the anger in European capitals and beyond over the way Algeria has handled the hostage crisis.

Graham Hand is a former British ambassador to Algeria.

“I think they’ve let us down. But this is not untypical Algerian behavior. It is to do with the fact that Algerians are proud, independent people, they would want to sort this out in their own way,” he said.

Hand said the attack marks a new departure for Islamist terrorists in Algeria.

“They really have not hit the oil and gas installations, of which there are many. And I think the fear must be that if this is the start of a new trend, then Algeria is going to have a huge problem,” said Hand.

Huge issue for foreign firms

It also will be a problem for the foreign companies that invest millions of dollars in resource-extraction across the Sahel, said international security consultant David Rubens.

“On a global scale, the loss of facilities is one thing, but losing 20 percent of your share price is a completely different situation. And I think that for a lot of people in the major boardrooms not far from here in central London, there are some serious discussions going on about the long-term implications. This is not a problem that’s going to go away in three weeks or three months,” said Rubens.

British oil giant BP, the co-operator of the natural gas complex, has begun pulling out non-essential workers from Algeria.

High-stakes situation remains

And as armored vehicles continue to roll off military transport planes at Bamako airport, Rubens said the French intervention in Mali - which the attackers say prompted their action - has raised the stakes across the region.

“I think the likelihood of an attack of this nature being made on a facility of this nature had to be considered a possibility,” said Rubens.
 
Hand said this is a critical moment for the region and for Europe.

“Libya hasn’t settled. There are still some question marks over Tunisia. Now we have Mali and we have trouble in Algeria. And I think we must not turn our backs on that region because it is only a very short distance from Europe,” said Hand.

Analysts say concerns that Islamic militancy is gaining a foothold just across the Mediterranean likely will build support for France’s intervention in Mali.