UPDATED – Algeria Raids Gas Plant Where Islamist Terrorists Hold Hostages, Many Hostages Dead or Missing

On Thursday, January 17, Algerian Special Forces raided a gas plant where an Islamist terrorist group was holding hostages. As of 11:30 EST January 18, there have been reports that approximately 30-35 hostages and 18 militants were killed during the operation.

The Algerian state news agency reported that over 600 were taken hostage.

The plant was located in southeast Algeria, close to the Libyan border.

Many western governments as well as media outlets have few details on the current situation.  Western governments who also had nationals in the group of hostages have criticized the Algerian government, saying that they felt as though they were “kept in the dark” by Algeria before the raid took place, according to The Gaurdian.

It is believed that the al-Qaeda affiliated group took the hostages in response to the French-led intervention in Mali earlier this week. The group, identifying itself as the Al-Mouthalimin Brigade, had demanded that the French forces stop their “crusade” in Mali, according to Le Monde. The militants had also demanded free passage out of Algeria with the hostages. Both the French and Algerian governments did not give in to these requests.

The Algerian State News Agency had stated that approximately 132 foreigners had been taken hostage, most of whom have now escaped, including 7 Americans, French, British and Japanese. Le Monde is also reporting that the French catering company, CIS had said that 150 of its Algerian employees had also been taken but were then subsequently released. Some hostages appeared to have also escaped during the chaos of the raid.

Few numbers are known but a reported two Japanese, two British, one French were of the at least 7 foreigners killed in the operation. Eight Algerian citizens were killed.  There were also hostages from America, Norway, Romania and Austria. After eight hours of action, three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, one Malian and one Frenchmen were also found dead according to Reuters.

Of the eleven militants killed, only two were Algerian. The group’s leader was also killed.

French President François Hollande responded to the incident saying that attacks such as this were further evidence that the intervention in Mali was the right thing to do. Hollande sent 1,000 troops into Mali to support the Malian government and a West African intervention force that is on its way to the area led by Nigerian general, Shehu Abdulkadir.

The Algerian government has not confirmed a specific number of deaths at this time. A spokesperson did say that the hard line approach that the government took to “diehard” militants showed that they would not be blackmailed or agree to negotiate with terrorists. In the 1990s Algiers sustained a bloody civil war against Islamists in the country.

This hostage situation is on a much larger scale than most and is probably best compared to the Chechen situation in Russia in terms of scale. It was also one of the boldest “abductions of foreign workers in recent years,” according to the New York Times. There have been many questions raised about the lack of security for the plant, the tactics used in the operation, and a larger question from other powers that had nationals as hostages as well. The Pentagon reported that American aid was offered to the Algerians to help in the case of a rescue mission, but not accepted. Some reports have said that an American drone had been sent for surveillance, however it had not arrived before the attack started. According to the New York Times, an unarmed American drone was surveying the site . There seems to have been no prior notice given to foreign governments before the raid commenced.

British Prime Minister, David Cameron cancelled a trip to Amsterdam for a much anticipated speech on the European Union in light of the crisis and also said that his office was not told in advance of the attack.

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