Algerian Hostage Situation Resolved After Military Raid

French Dassault Rafale in Flight. Photo: Flickr.com/Ronnie Macdonald

French Dassault Rafale in Flight.
Photo: Flickr.com/Ronnie Macdonald

The hostage situation at the remote Algerian gas facility has come to an end. Seven foreigners and eleven terrorists are dead, according to the Algerian government, with another four BP workers still missing. The assault by the Algerian military claimed fewer lives than previously reported– the numbers of 50 dead put forth by the terrorists were “ludicrous,” according to a government source.

The first testimonies of the freed hostages are coming in and describing scenes of horror – including stories of bomb collars being set by their captors, many of which were detonated.

The attack on the gas field was originally framed by the terrorists as retaliation for the recent French surge against AQMI and other rebel forces in the Malian cities of Konna and Mopti. However, at this time it seems clear that the attack had been planned for some time, as it would have taken several months of gathering intelligence, assembling equipment, and training forces to secure the facility, which was closely guarded by the Algerian military.

The incident highlights many of the ongoing geopolitical changes in the region. Algeria had been dealing with terrorism as a constant national threat throughout the 1990s and into the early years of the 21st century. It was through great effort that the Algerian government managed to push the combatants out of the northern population centers and to the sparsely inhabited regions of the south.

The government had been maintaining something of a “status-quo,” leaving remaining pockets of insurgent groups relatively unbothered as long as violent attacks were not carried out in heavily populated areas. The attack on In Amenas, however, carried not only political repercussions, but also threatened the country’s economy, as the site is responsible for a large percentage of natural gas exports.

The Algerian response had been heavily criticized by western media outlets, especially those in the United-States, the United Kingdom, and Japan, when the hostage body count had been thought to be in the double digits. France, however, deemed such reports “appropriate,” as President Hollande chose to phrase it, as Algeria opened its air space to French Dassault Rafales fighter aircraft.

The French creed over the past ten years has been clear: the nation will not tolerate terrorism. This notion has led to a number of high profile military interventions in attempts to rescue French citizens detained overseas. Such action has resulted in French causalities, as seen recently in Somalia. In Algeria, however, the local authorities took it upon themselves to deal with the situation. It was a strong stance from the Algerian government – standing firm on terrorism, even with the possibility of casualties, one that echoes the French position.

Algeria is a major player in the struggle against fundamentalist terror, especially considering that part of its territory, the disputed Sahel desert zone, contains jihadist elements that are growing in strength. It is clear to the French government that the current Malian conflict and the issue of Islamic extremism, embodied by Al Qaida in Islamic Magreb, cannot be resolved without the cooperation of the Algerian government. France is well aware of the delicacy of the situation, and has chosen its words carefully in commenting on the hostage situation, as well as on Algeria’s attitude towards terrorism at large.

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