Bloodbath in the Algerian desert: what was kidnapping all about?
Six questions answered about the hostage crisis and the al-Qaeda-linked Islamists behind the siege
AN ALGERIAN rescue mission appears to have freed only a small number of the hostages taken by al-Qaeda-linked militants at a gas plant in the Algerian desert. According to Mauritania's ANI news agency, a spokesperson for the kidnappers says that seven western hostages are still alive: three Belgians, two Americans, one Japanese and one Briton. Reuters reports that 14 kidnappers and 34 hostages died as a result of the Algerian forces attacking the plant in helicopters. The Daily Mail described it as a "bloodbath".
What happened this morning? About 30 Algerian workers reportedly escaped the plant early today before the military mission was launched. As many as 35 foreign hostages - two of them British - are understood to have died in the ensuing attack. A spokesman for the kidnappers claimed they tried to take some hostages to "a safe place" using cars belonging to the gas company. But the vehicles were attacked by Algerian forces, leading to the deaths of kidnappers and hostages.
Who was being held hostage? Reports vary on the number of hostages taken yesterday. Five were thought to be British, according to The Times. Norway confirmed early that there were 13 Norwegian hostages, while Ireland said a 36-year-old Irishman was among the group. America confirmed some US citizens were being held captive. AP says there were three Japanese workers among those being held.
Who are the kidnappers? The insurgents are thought to be members of the Battalion of Blood group and led by a "one eyed" Islamist known as Mr Marlboro. CNN notes that Mr Marlboro is a "veteran jihadist" who is also "renowned for hostage-taking and smuggling anything from cigarettes to refugees". According to Algeria's interior minister, Daho Ould Kablia, they are acting under the orders of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a senior al-Qaeda commander. Some reports say another group led by Belmokhtar, the Khaled Abu al-Abbas Brigade, has also claimed responsibility for the incident.
What was their motive? According to the militants themselves, it is the French intervention in Mali. According to Foreign Secretary William Hague, it's "cold blooded murder." The Battalion issued a media statement saying they were retaliating for Algeria's agreement to allow the French use of its airspace to attack rebel positions in Mali. One of Belmokhtar's close associates, Oumar Ould Hamaha, has told AP that "all western countries" will "pay a price" for Mali.
How did the West respond? Yesterday, William Hague called it a "very dangerous situation" and said the British government was working "around the clock" to help resolve the crisis. A team was deployed to reinforce British embassy and consulate staff in Algeria. The government's emergency committee, Cobra, was due to meet again today. It is not yet known whether any special forces from outside Algeria played a part in today's rescue attempt.
Where is the gas field and who runs it? The gas field, at In Amenas or Ain Amenas, is operated by BP in partnership with the Norwegian oil company Statoil and Algeria's Sonatrach. The complex is around 700 miles from the border with Mali. A Japanese group, JGC Corp, provides services.