Islamist militants on Wednesday attacked a natural gas facility in Algeria.
And they took many hostages, of many different nationalities.
US officials have confirmed that some of those being held are American.
The facility that was attacked is part of a joint venture involving oil giant BP.
Algeria’s state news agency reported that two people were killed in the attack — including at least one foreigner — and six others wounded.
The BBC Arab Affairs Editor Sebastian Usher says that because citizens from Algeria, France, the US, the UK, and Japan are involved, the attack is an international crisis in the making.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. Islamist militants today attacked a natural gas facility in Algeria, and they took many hostages of many different nationalities. US officials have confirmed that some of those being held are American. The facility that was attacked was part of a joint venture involving oil giant BP. Algeria’s state news agency reported that two people were killed in the attack, including at least one foreigner, and six others wounded. BBC Arab Affairs Editor Sebastian Usher says the attack is an international crisis in the making.
Sebastian Usher: This was an attack staged by Islamic militants on a gas facility, which is in the east of Algeria, which is operated by BP, by the Algerian state oil company and by a Norwegian company as well, Statoil. And there’s a Japanese company also which works there. So the potential for a variety of nationalities to be caught up in this was always there and that’s how it seems things have now gone. The militants came in the early hours this morning. The Algerian news agency said they were in three vehicles. They appear to have tried to take hostages from a bus, which was taking employees away from the site. That seems to have failed in some way and they moved onto the buildings on the site.
Werman: Tell us about this Islamist group that has claimed responsibility. What have they demanded?
Usher: It’s called the Masked Brigade and it’s an offshoot of a group called al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which started in Algeria about 15 years ago and has moved into an al Qaeda affiliate in the past few years. They at the moment are involved in what’s happening in Mali, which neighbors Algeria. Islamist groups there had threatened revenge attacks in the region when France launched its intervention against Islamist militants there last week. And that’s obviously an ongoing operation now. Now, this group, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was confronted by the Algerian forces and was pretty much defeated in the areas that it was holding in the main part of Algeria. They moved down south and they now cross the borders of the Sahara. What is surprising about this attack is that even in the civil war in Algeria, which went on all through the ’90s and up to 200,000 people are reported to have been killed, the Algerian security forces have pretty much managed to maintain a tight lid on what mattered to them most, which was the gas and the oil facilities and plants down in the South. So there have been very few attacks of this kind by Islamist militants. What may have changed things is the spillover from the Libyan conflict a year and a half ago and the weapons that were used during that conflict by Gaddafi’s forces that were brought in by the rebels have now been taken by some of these Islamist groups, giving them the capacity to carry out these sorts of attacks.
Werman: So France went into Mali to dislodge Islamic extremists. Mali is Algeria’s direct neighbor to the South. Both are former French colonies. Map out the rest of this dynamic for us between Algeria, Mali and France.
Usher: Well, Algeria obviously has a very difficult relationship with France. It was the Colonial power fronts for many years, a nationalist movement got the French out in a very bitter war in the ’50s and the ’60s. And the hangover from that is that though there is a close relationship in many ways with France, it’s a very difficult relationship, but it’s one which can inspire Islamists particularly as we’re seeing now, to turn that anger against the French. So this move by the French in Mali, there’s criticism both inside France and of course, outside in this region in North Africa that it was another venture by a Colonial power essentially and that it would have this kind of blowback.
Werman: The BBC Arab Affairs Editor Sebastian Usher, thank you very much.
Usher: Thank you.
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