Algeria botches rescue attempt
ALGIERS — Algerian helicopters and special forces on Thursday staged a high-stakes military assault against Islamist terrorists to free scores of hostages, including Americans, at an international gas complex in the Sahara Desert, with some accounts suggesting the military attack was botched, resulting in the deaths of perhaps dozens.
Dueling claims from the military and the terrorists muddied the world's understanding of an event that angered Western leaders, raised world oil prices and complicated the international military operation in neighboring Mali.
Algeria's attack against the militants sparked a torrent of complaints from countries representing the hostages. The United States was not notified before Algerian forces conducted the raid and had urged caution, an Obama administration official said. British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed dismay that he wasn't consulted, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe demanded that Algeria halt the operation.
Details from the remote outpost near Algeria's border with Libya remained sketchy, with conflicting accounts nevertheless indicating a potentially significant number of casualties.
Algeria's Communications Minister Mohamed Said Oubelaid told state media late Thursday that combat operations had ended. But efforts to free some hostages were continuing. Algerian media reported that some of the hostages were still held by militants who escaped the attack, with Algerian forces in pursuit.
“This it is a very dangerous, very uncertain and very fluid situation, and I think we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of bad news ahead,” Cameron said, after confirming that at least one Briton had died.
In an interview Thursday with ABC News, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said “about 100 people” were at the complex when the attack occurred but that it was unclear how many were taken hostage. He said initial reports were that the hostages included “somewhere in the vicinity” of seven or eight Americans.
Spokesmen for the hostage-takers said their siege was in response to the French intervention in Mali. Experts, however, said the sophistication of the attack suggested it may have been planned long before French troops arrived in Mali and that the motive may have been a show of force against an old adversary — the Algerian military.
The ability of militants to mount the most daring attack on Algerian soil in years rattled observers, who had considered the country's energy fields — which supply Western Europe with 20 percent of its natural gas — as beyond the reach of radical groups. News of the chaos caused oil prices to rise $1.25 to close at $95.49 a barrel.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, described the attack as a “brazen, large scale raid” that went far beyond the scope of the kidnapping operations that have become routine for al-Qaida's affiliate in North Africa.
Militants took dozens of hostages at the sprawling Tiguentourine plant, jointly run by BP, Norway's Statoil and the Algerian state energy company, about 25 miles southwest of the town of Ain Amenas.
Stephen McFaul, 36, a father of five from Northern Ireland who works as an electrician at the facility, was herded into a room with others, the London-based Daily Mail reported. He made what he thought might be his last phone call, telling his relatives: “Al-Qaida have got me.”
Bullets could be heard “flying about outside,” relatives said.
Reports suggested some hostages were forced to wear suicide-bomber vests.
Speaking through the Agence Nouakchott d'Information — the Mauritanian news agency sympathetic to the militants — a spokesman for the terrorists claimed that the attempted Algerian rescue began because the jihadists had tried to move hostages out of the facility.
The U.S. government sent an unmanned surveillance drone to the BP-operated site, but it could do little more than watch. Algeria's army-dominated government, hardened by decades of fighting Islamists, shrugged aside foreign offers of help.
According to French government sources, the extremists started killing hostages “in an appalling fashion” after the assault began.
The ensuing helicopter assault, Algerian media reported, left 35 hostages and 15 of their captors dead. Neither Algerian officials nor Western governments have confirmed the toll. An eyewitness described a scene of carnage, saying: “There were bodies all over the ground.”
At least six were killed — Britons, Filipinos and Algerians. Dozens more remained unaccounted for: Americans, Britons, French, Norwegians, Romanians, Malaysians, Japanese, Algerians. Hostages from Ireland and Norway trickled out of the plant.
McFaul was one of the lucky ones. About 3 p.m. he phoned his wife to say: “I'm free, love, I'm free.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- With eyes on China, Japan seeks record defense budget
- Zimbabwe’s first lady enters politics amidst controversy
- As German fears grow, Merkel ‘holds line’
- Beijing expected to restrict Hong Kong candidates
- 5 authors of Ebola study died of virus during research
- Ebola-infected student gives problem to Senegal
- Mexico operations thwart child, family migrants
- Yemenis protest against Shiites
- Terror threat not foreign, Cameron tells Brits
- Putin calls for exit corridor for Ukrainian troops trapped in southeast
- U.N. fears 20,000 will be infected with Ebola