— U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has condemned the taking of as many as 41 foreign hostages at a natural gas facility in Algeria, a move apparently linked to the French military operation in neighboring Mali.
Secretary Panetta says the United States will take “all necessary and proper steps” in response to the hostage crisis at the facility, run by British, Norwegian and Algerian companies.
“The United States strongly condemns these kinds of terrorist acts. It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage, along with others," he said.
Speaking in Rome, Panetta said he did not know how many Americans are among the hostages.
But a spokesman for the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb militant group told VOA there are seven American hostages, and that the United States will “face the consequences” if it tries to help France in its military operation against the group in Mali.
Secretary Panetta previously said the United States will not send ground troops, but will provide intelligence, logistics and transportation support to the French forces in Mali. On Wednesday he said the assistance plan is under legal review but he is confident it will be approved based on laws authorizing the war on terrorism.
“I do know that terrorists are terrorists, and terrorists take these kinds of actions not just in Algeria, they take them elsewhere ... and we have witnessed their behavior in a number of occasions where they have total disregard for innocent men and women. And this appears to be that kind of situation," he said.
Al-Qaida expert Alia Brahimi of the London School of Economics said Wednesday the Islamic Maghreb group and others in North Africa have changed their goals over the past year, moving away from a focus on local and regional issues.
“There is a common consciousness emerging now in Africa among militant groups - in Somalia, in Nigeria, in Algeria - who were once obsessively localized, who are increasingly buying into the notion of global jihad, and who feel that they can reinvent their past record of failure and infighting by actually becoming more faithful affiliates of the al-Qaida brand and are focusing on attacking the West," she said.
Brahimi says the al-Qaida move to take over all of Mali, which sparked the French action, would have created a base of operations from which more attacks on the West would have been planned.