News / Africa

    Algerian Operation to End Desert Siege Ends with Hostage Deaths

    Handout photo released by Norway's energy group Statoil on January 17, 2013 shows vehicles parked at the In Amenas gas field, jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and state-run Algerian energy firm Sonatrach, in eastern Algeria near
    Handout photo released by Norway's energy group Statoil on January 17, 2013 shows vehicles parked at the In Amenas gas field, jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and state-run Algerian energy firm Sonatrach, in eastern Algeria near
    Reuters
    Twenty-five foreign hostages escaped and six were killed on Thursday when Algerian forces launched an operation to free them at a remote desert gas plant, Algerian sources said, as one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades unfolded.

    Fast-moving details of the military operation to free the hostages were difficult to confirm. Algeria's official APS news agency said that the military had freed four foreign hostages, giving no further information.

    A local source told Reuters six foreign hostages were killed along with eight captors when the Algerian military fired on a vehicle being used by the gunmen. An Algerian security source said the 25 foreign hostages had escaped.

    Mauritania's ANI news agency, which has been in constant contact with the kidnappers, said seven hostages were still being held: two Americans, three Belgians, one Japanese and one British citizen.

    Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

    • Formed in the 1990's to fight Algeria's secular government
    • Wants to rid North Africa of western influence and impose sharia
    • Estimated to have amassed $100 million in kidnapping ransoms
    The standoff began when gunmen calling themselves the Battalion of Blood stormed the gas plant on Wednesday morning. They said they were holding 41 foreigners and demanded a halt to a French military operation against fellow al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants in neighbouring Mali.

    ANI and Qatar-based Al Jazeera reported that 34 of the captives and 15 of their captors had been killed when government forces fired from helicopters at a vehicle. Those death tolls, far higher than confirmed by the local source, would contradict the reports that large numbers of foreigners escaped alive.

    Britain and Norway, whose oil firms BP and Statoil run the plant jointly with the Algerian state oil company, said they had been informed by the Algerian authorities that a military operation was under way but did not provide details.

    As many as 180 Algerian hostages had also been held but managed to flee, the local source said.

    The incident dramatically raises the stakes in the French military campaign in neighbouring Mali, where hundreds of French paratroopers and marines are launching a ground offensive against rebels after air strikes began last week.

    Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the kidnappers were led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist guerrilla who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and had set up his own group in the Sahara after falling out with other local al Qaeda leaders.

    A holy warrior-cum-smuggler dubbed "The Uncatchable'' by French intelligence and "Mister Marlboro'' by some locals for his illicit cigarette-running business, Belmokhtar's links to those who seized towns across northern Mali last year are unclear.

    The hostage takers earlier allowed some prisoners to speak to the media, apparently to put pressure on Algerian forces not to storm the compound. An unidentified hostage who spoke to France 24 television said prisoners were forced to wear explosive belts and captors had threatened to blow up the plant.

    Two hostages, identified as British and Irish, spoke to Al Jazeera television and called on the Algerian army to withdraw from the area to avoid casualties.

    "We are receiving care and good treatment from the kidnappers. The [Algerian] army did not withdraw and they are firing at the camp,'' the British man said. ``There are around 150 Algerian hostages. We say to everybody that negotiations is a sign of strength and will spare many any loss of life.''

    Unconfirmed numbers

    The precise number and nationalities of foreign hostages could not be confirmed, with some countries reluctant to release information that could be useful to the captors.

    Britain said one of its citizens was killed in the initial storming on Wednesday and ``a number'' of others were held.

    The militants said seven Americans were among their hostages, a figure U.S. officials said they could not confirm.

    Norwegian oil company Statoil said nine of its Norwegian staff and three Algerian employees were captive. Britain's BP, which operates the plant with Statoil and Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, said some of its staff were held but would not say how many or their nationalities.

    Japanese media said five workers from Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp. were held, a number the company did not confirm. Paris has not said whether any hostages were French. Vienna said one hostage was Austrian, Dublin said one was Irish and Bucharest said an unspecified number were Romanian.

    Spanish oil company Cepsa said it had begun to evacuate personnel from elsewhere in Algeria.

    Paris said the Algeria attack demonstrated it was right to intervene in Mali: "We have the flagrant proof that this problem goes beyond just the north of Mali,'' French ambassador to Mali Christian Rouyer told France Inter radio.

    President Francois Hollande has received public backing from Western and African allies who fear that al Qaeda, flush with men and arms from the defeated forces of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, is building a desert haven in Mali, a poor country helpless to combat fighters who seized its north last year.

    However, there is also some concern in Washington and other capitals that the French action in Mali could provoke a backlash worse than the initial threat by militants in the remote Sahara.

    The militants, communicating through established contacts with media in neighboring Mauritania, said they had dozens of men armed with mortars and anti-aircraft missiles in the compound and had rigged it with explosives.

    "We hold the Algerian government and the French government and the countries of the hostages fully responsible if our demands are not met, and it is up to them to stop the brutal aggression against our people in Mali,'' read one statement carried by Mauritanian media.

    They condemned Algeria's secularist government for letting French warplanes fly over its territory to Mali and shutting its border to Malian refugees.

    Mali campaign presses on

    The attack in Algeria did not stop France from pressing on with its campaign in Mali. It said on Thursday it now had 1,400 troops on the ground in Mali, and combat was underway against the rebels that it first began targeting from the air last week.

    "There was combat yesterday, on the ground and in the air. It happened overnight and is under way now,'' said Le Drian. Residents said a column of about 30 French Sagaie armoured vehicles set off on Wednesday toward rebel positions from the town of Niono, 300 km (190 miles) from the capital, Bamako.

    A French elite Special Operations soldier drives through the town of Markala, about 275 km (171 miles) from the capital Bamako, January 15, 2013, to meet Malian soldiers and organize a counter-attack in the jihadist-held town of Diabaly.A French elite Special Operations soldier drives through the town of Markala, about 275 km (171 miles) from the capital Bamako, January 15, 2013, to meet Malian soldiers and organize a counter-attack in the jihadist-held town of Diabaly.
    x
    A French elite Special Operations soldier drives through the town of Markala, about 275 km (171 miles) from the capital Bamako, January 15, 2013, to meet Malian soldiers and organize a counter-attack in the jihadist-held town of Diabaly.
    A French elite Special Operations soldier drives through the town of Markala, about 275 km (171 miles) from the capital Bamako, January 15, 2013, to meet Malian soldiers and organize a counter-attack in the jihadist-held town of Diabaly.
    The French action last week came as a surprise but received widespread international support in public. Neighboring African countries planning to provide ground troops for a U.N. force by September have said they will move faster to deploy them.

    Nigeria, the strongest regional power, sent 162 soldiers on Thursday, the first of an anticipated 906.

    "The whole world clearly needs to unite and do much more than is presently being done to contain terrorism, with its very negative impact on global peace and security,'' President Goodluck Jonathan said.

    Germany, Britain and the Netherlands have offered transport aircraft to help ferry in African troops. Washington has said it is considering what support it can offer.

    Many inhabitants of northern Mali have welcomed the French action, though some also fear being caught in the cross-fire. The Mali rebels who seized Timbuktu and other oasis towns in northern Mali last year imposed Islamic law, including public amputations and beheadings that angered many locals.

    A day after launching the campaign in Mali, Hollande also ordered a failed rescue in Somalia on Saturday to free a French hostage held by al-Qaida-linked al Shabaab militants since 2009. Al Shabaab said on Thursday it had executed hostage Denis Allex. France said it believed he died in the rescue.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora