23 hostages and 32 terrorists dead as dust settles in Algeria
Bloodbath at gas plant leads to fears that Sahara could become a terrorist haven like Afghanistan
THE ALGERIAN hostage crisis came to a bloody conclusion yesterday as government troops launched a second assault on the remote BP gas plant in the North African desert.
As the dust settled on the four-day siege, Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking from Chequers this morning, confirmed that three Britons had been killed and three more are believed to be dead. According to some reports, a seventh UK resident may also have died.
The drama came to a head on Saturday when the Algerian army killed the remaining Islamic militants but failed to rescue the last of the hostages, who are said to have been executed as the troops neared.
This morning it was reported that 32 of the terrorists had been killed along with 23 hostages. In addition to the British employees, workers from Japan, Norway and US as well as other countries are still missing.
Five talking points today:
Some of the terrorists may have been westerners. A freed hostage has revealed that at least one of the hostage takers spoke "perfect English". The Daily Telegraph reports: "The revelation raised speculation that Islamists radicals with links with the UK or other western English-speaking countries might have been involved in the crisis." Earlier reports suggested that several "foreigners", including a Canadian and a French national, were among the kidnappers.
Hostages were executed in cold blood. The terrorists who survived the first Algerian assault on the plant on Thursday set booby-traps to keep government forces at bay, but as the army bore down on them on Saturday they executed their final seven hostages, in what the Mail on Sunday calls "a final, monstrous act of violence". Efforts are now underway to identify several bodies that have been badly burned. Despite the bloodshed it is reported that 685 Algerian and 107 foreign workers escaped the plant with their lives.
The al-Qaeda connection. The militants are believed to have links to AQIM, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They were led by Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, a "seasoned" jihadist said to have been killed in the final assault on the plant. He was appointed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind of the operation, who recently split from al-Qaeda and set up his own group, known by various names including the Signed-in-Blood Battalion and Masked Men Brigade.
Algeria's 'Ninja' forces learned from the Russians. The Algerian special forces who launched the attack on the gas have been called "trigger-happy" and are sometimes known as "the Ninjas". The units were set up to take on Islamists during the country's civil war in the 1990s, and were trained by ex-Soviets. French anti-terrorism expert Charles Pellegrini told Le Parisien that the Algerian response was no surprise. "The senior ranks of the Algerian army never negotiate with terrorists and always deal with these types of situations Russian-style."
Security focus on North Africa. There are now fears that the Sahara could become a terrorist haven like Afghanistan before 2001. As the Sunday Times reports, “Western leaders, from David Cameron to Barack Obama, now have to make hard assessments about how far to shift the focus of the war on terror from Pakistan and Afghanistan... to the jihadists' African stomping ground."