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Algerian troops end siege at In Amenas gas facility




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The Algerian military appears to have ended the hostage crisis at the In Amenas facility in southeastern Algeria after its forces stormed the factory area earlier today. The residential area of the facility was taken yesterday. Abdul Rahman al Nigeri, the overall commander of the assault team from the al-Mua'qi'oon Biddam, or Those who Sign with Blood Brigade, is said to be in charge of the jihadists at the factory area. Reports on the number of hostages killed and freed are still up in the air. From BBC:

Algerian troops have ended a siege at a gas facility in the Sahara desert killing 11 Islamist militants after they killed seven hostages, Algerian state news agency APS has said.

The hostages were summarily killed as the troops tried to free them, it said.

Foreign workers were among the hostages, but the nationalities of the dead are not known.

The militants had been involved in a stand-off since Thursday after trying to occupy the remote site.

APS has previously said 12 Algerian and foreign workers have been killed since rescue efforts began.

On Friday, 573 Algerians and about 100 of 132 foreigners working at the plant were freed, Algerian officials said.

About 30 foreigners remain unaccounted for, including fewer than 10 from the UK.

The militants themselves said before the raid that they had been holding seven hostages.

Shortly before reports of the final assault emerged, the leader of the hostage-takers, Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, said the government had to choose between negotiating with the kidnappers and leaving the hostages to die.

He said the area had been booby-trapped and swore to blow up the complex if the Algerian army used force.

Algerian national oil and gas company Sonatrach said the army was now clearing mines planted by the militants.

Reuters and Al Jazeera provide more details on the outcome of the raid, identities and nationalities of some of the hostages killed and freed, etc. Given the Algerians' unwillingness to share details with Western government and the press, it may take days for the details to become clear.

The fate of Abdul Rahman al Nigeri and other jihadists is not known. The facility is in the middle of the desert, but is just 10 miles from the Libyan border. The Algerian military no doubt attempted to surround the remote facility, but no cordon is airtight. It is unlikely that al Nigeri escaped, but if he and a few other fighters were to have skipped out, it would be a major propaganda coup.

Interestingly enough, Mokhtar Belmokhtar's assault team from the Those who Sign with Blood Brigade seemed to be more interested in holding and ultimately killing hostages and requesting the release of the Blind Sheikh and Lady Al Qaeda than destroying the gas facility at In Amenas, which is estimated to produce about 10 percent of the country's exports. The destruction of the facility would have seriously impacted Algeria's economy and would have affected the global economy as well.



READER COMMENTS: "Algerian troops end siege at In Amenas gas facility"

Posted by Bill Baar at January 19, 2013 11:40 AM ET:

I gather this had little to do with Mali and a whole lot to do with bargining for the blind shiek's release?

Posted by Bill Baar at January 19, 2013 11:41 AM ET:

I gather this had little to do with Mali and a whole lot to do with bargaining for the blind sheik's release?

Posted by Stephanie at January 19, 2013 1:06 PM ET:

Very sad situation! But good for the Algerian military for doing their best to free as many as they could.

Posted by Dave at January 19, 2013 3:15 PM ET:

The gas plant where the seige occurred is WSW from In Amenas, just off the map shown here. In most accounts, the intial attack occurred on the road between In Amenas and the gas plant, and when that attack failed, the terrorists attacked the housing area at the plant.

Let's be clear about this, the motivation of this particular criminal band is kidnaping and hostage taking for profit, coated with a pathetic veneer of religious righteousness.

None of the countries criticizing Algeria's tactics have been through Algeria's recent history with Islamic terrorists. The families of the workers killed are deserving of our sympathy, but our anger should be directed to the criminal butchers who initiated this attack and not the Algerians who defended their country.

Posted by Will Fenwick at January 19, 2013 4:19 PM ET:

My thinking is that they did not have the means to do widespread damage to the facility. The reports I've read indicate that they only had light vehicles, small arms, and small quantities of explosives of a nature not disclosed.

Posted by mike merlo at January 19, 2013 4:21 PM ET:

@B Roggio
"Interestingly enough, Mokhtar Belmokhtar's assault team from the Those who Sign with Blood Brigade seemed to be more interested in holding and ultimately killing hostages and requesting the release of the Blind Sheikh and Lady Al Qaeda than destroying the gas facility at In Amenas," 'this' is a really interesting 'observation.'

Posted by Early the squid at January 19, 2013 6:30 PM ET:

Some my favorite quotes...

The Algerian Press Service quoted a security official as saying: "[The army] is still trying to (Achieve a peaceful outcome Before Neutralising) the terrorist group" that is holed up in the [facility] and freeing a group of hostages still being held."

The U.S. offered military assistance Wednesday to help rescue the hostages but (The Algerian government refused), a U.S. official said in Washington.

Probably for the best. Who wants to part of a HR cluster....

Who will claim "Training" the Algerian "Special-ED" Forces.
Patience should be in there next... "Evolution."

What a FUBAR.
IMHO.

Posted by Jeff Edelman at January 19, 2013 7:17 PM ET:

With all due respect, Bill, people can believe what they want to believe but; even if this guy did escape, it would hardly be a public relations coup. Except for having people killed, he got nothing of what he wanted! The facility is still intact, the terrorist are still imprisoned, there's the diminshed hope that taking hostages will result in gain and the French are still killing islamist in Mali. This wouldn't even qualify as a pyrrhic victory. For the terrorist, it was yet another failure. All things considered, the Algerians handled it well.

Posted by AMac at January 20, 2013 1:03 PM ET:

This BBC piece from 18 January gives some context for the Algerian army's fast-and-alone approach.

Algerian reaction to raid rooted in history

Fair-use extract:

Algeria's decision to deal with the kidnappers forcefully and unilaterally fits with a deeply-entrenched and uncompromising approach to counter-terrorism...

[Algerian authorities] take pride in their counter-terrorism experience, their military suppression of armed groups and their publicly-stated reluctance to negotiate or pay ransoms.

"We say that confronted with terrorism, yesterday as today and tomorrow, there will be no negotiation, no blackmail, no let-up in the fight against terrorism... Those who think we will negotiate with terrorists are delusional," said Algerian Communications Minister Mohamed Said Belaid...

"Algeria's not a country that would feel comfortable relying on foreign security forces to help liberate the hostages, and that's because of this deep-seated feeling that there should be no foreign military presence in the country," said Robert Parks, director of the Centre for North African Studies in Algeria....

Posted by erik k at January 20, 2013 1:12 PM ET:

I was extremely surprised that US and British special operators didn't execute the raid.

It just doesn't make sense given that citizens of both nations were among the captives and that there are no better troops for such a job.

Only thing I can infer is that Algerian officials couldn't control their egos enough to let foreign forces in to do the job better than their own forces.

Can you please shed any light on why US/British special operators weren't involved?

Posted by Mafer at January 20, 2013 5:03 PM ET:

Investors are losing money on their natural gas plays due to the glut in the market. There was such overinvestment in gas that had the facility been destroyed, investors would have actually benefitted. However, consumers would have taken a hit had the facility been destroyed.

The point is that destroying the facility would not hurt the European Elite, but rather benefit it. Perhaps the kidnappers knew this.

Posted by al at January 20, 2013 9:38 PM ET:

Just a question: Does the US have, in this age of "better living through chemistry", a toxic and incapacitating gas that could have been used to flood the area, and allow rescue? What of the nausea-inducing gasses? Seems to me, something better could have been available.

Posted by Jay at January 21, 2013 7:06 AM ET:

Erik
agree more the better troops you have for a specific task the better it is...

Algeria is sovereign country, has long counter insurgency back ground, it is ok for them to take a stand and choice that looked correct for them, and that does not have to change one wee bit just because the hostages consisted of US/UK citizens.

Maybe US/UK does have better forces vis-a-vis the situation but that doesn't in any way make them obliged to call for assistance OR "else not in control of their egos"

And yeah foreigners do get killed in ops done by US/UK too....pretty long list there...

point is : one could have a bit more respect for other nations choices too.

Posted by AMac at January 21, 2013 11:17 AM ET:

Via Walter Russell Mead, here are two blog posts by Adam Garfinkle from last week that discuss operations in Northern Mali, and the relevance of developments in Libya and Mali to the attack by Al Qaeda franchisees on the In Amenas facility.

While such connections are known to readers of this site, they will be mystifying to most people who rely on the mainstream media for information. (Judging from State Dept. press conferences run by spokesperson Victoria Nuland, that organization would also benefit from starting to think about these issues.)

Flogging Mali, 1/15/13.

Flogging Mali Again (and the Attack in Algeria too), 1/18/13.

--- begin fair-use excerpt ---

Now, you would think that, given [French involvement in Mali], we here in the relevant parts of the U.S. government—NSC, DoD, State, intell—would have anticipated [the French requests for US assistance]... I don’t know if we did or not; lately we seem to be completely reactive. From the way Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded in public yesterday, as if he had just walked out of the dentist’s office before the nitrous oxide had worn off, it’s hard to know.

[Some people are] wondering just what we’re thinking, or better, if we’re thinking. Are we ticked that the French went off to the fight without us, when we had counseled more “watchful waiting”? Are we leery of being dragged into an endless mess? Are we even possibly thinking, hey, why not let the Tuareg have their independent Azawad, since reconstituting Mali is neither doable at reasonable cost nor all that significant one way or the other? Nobody knows.

--- end fair-use excerpt ---

Posted by Geez at January 22, 2013 12:13 AM ET:

Thanks, AMac. Some very enlightening info in those links.

Posted by blert at January 22, 2013 1:22 AM ET:

Mafer...

The Algerian facility is jointly owned by the British, Norway and Algeria.

It sells domestically and across the Med to Europe -- particularly France -- there is an undersea pipeline running north from Algeria to France.

The pricing of that gas is by long term contract -- as is the case for all major natural gas deals. Absolutely no-one constructs these extremely expensive pipelines without long term supplies and markets -- anywhere in the world.

Natural gas is NEVER priced based upon OPEC crude prices. It doesn't even get priced versus other deals done in other countries. Everything turns on the cost of trans-shipment. Prices always work backwards from what the market will bear. What the producer thinks is right never decides the issue. And, of course, every single producer in the world thinks that his pricing is too low. It's always lower than the energy pricing of crude oil.

If the cost of trans-shipment is too high, the gas either stays in the ground -- very common -- or the gas is flared/ burnt into the sky. This was done all across the Gulf right through the 1980s until the Arabs and Persians used it to distill sea water. Without practical customers, it has no market at all.

BTW, Iran has had massive gas deposits going begging for over thirty-years. She has c e n t u r i e s of reserves. Every single attempt to export her astounding reserves has failed.

---------

But, back to your assertion: prices in France and Europe are drastically higher than America. So this project is not, in any way, suffering from bad economics. It's such a money-spinner that the Algerian government HAD to get it back up and running ASAP. It's a huge part of that government's budget.

---------

As for the islamists: it's now clear to the world that there could be no negotiating. They were murdering the non-Algerians just about as fast as they could go. From the start their intention was to commit suicide-murder.

They shot the Japanese the second they saw them.

They never intended to negotiate for anything.

Lastly, the Algerians maintain a military complex just down the road. There wasn't a chance that any kidnapping for ransom could've gotten to first base. The islamists knew that going in.

That's telling, right there.