Unidentified sources told Verdens Gang (VG), a Norwegian newspaper, that the Islamist militants had placed inside knowledge of the Ain Amenas gas plant, and were able to place weapons inside the complex ahead of their 16 January attack. Hostage witness accounts also state that the attackers knew exactly where to find foreign workers inside the complex. An Algerian security official confirmed on Wednesday that one of the assailants had been employed as a chauffeur at the site up until last year.
Analysts suspect the Algerian government grew complacent in security at oil and gas installations in recent times, and the militants took advantage of the lapse in security. If the attacks were assisted by insiders, or succeeded due to complacency, a similar attack is less likely to be repeated elsewhere, as the conditions which allowed this attack are unlikely to be recreated. However, if the capability of the terrorists is greater than the security precautions in place, likelihood for attacks may increase.
Companies are now trying to determine whether the attacks at Ain Amenas were an isolated incident, or a paradigm shift for security in North Africa. As Militant Islamists are increasingly present and active in the region, it is possible they may now target energy facilities, especially in countries where the security is not as tight as it has been in Algeria.
Libya, which has a well-developed hydrocarbon sector, but a very week security infrastructure, is at particular risk, as well as other extractive industry installations in Mauritania or Niger.
It is unlikely that attacks will occur at similar facilities in the immediate future. Belmokhtar, mastermind of the raid, may take time to replace people and equipment that were lost in last week’s attacks. However, because the region is vast, and targets are increasingly scarce and difficult to attack, it is likely that militant groups will continue to expand their range of operations for new kidnapping victims. Ransoms from these victims would replace the resources lost in the attack.
Further complicating matters, following the Libyan revolution, an abundance of shoulder-fired missiles have become available in the region, adding to the risk that in lieu of kidnapping, militants may choose to conduct surface to air terrorism, such as attacking aircraft used to transport Westerners to extraction installations.
As smuggling operations in Mali become increasingly difficult and insurgents are driven further north, it is possible that the Islamist extremist groups will retreat into Mali’s Kidal region, Niger’s Air region, or as far back as Libya, where relative lawlessness allows operations to be conducted with comparative ease.
Canada, Britain, and several European countries have urged their nationals to leave Benghazi on Thursday, citing “specific and imminent” threats to Westerners days. The warning occurs a week after the attack at Ain Amenas gas complex in neighbouring Algeria, and was made due to a “credible threat” picked up by MI6 that was linked to last week’s raid. The threat was described as “specific” and “imminent”, however details have not been released.
Few Westerners are believed to be in Benghazi, the tumult in the city following the Libyan revolution saw an increase in violence toward diplomats, military, and police, including the September attack on the US Embassy which resulted in four deaths.
The British ambassador in Tripoli called each British national and told them to leave immediately, stating that there are threats of attack on foreign institutions run by foreigners, including schools and hospitals. Experts believe the warnings are likely from groups angered by the French operation in Mali, and inspired by last week’s events.
These warnings have shocked the Libyan government, who have not received formal information regarding the threat, and raised the ire of Deputy Interior Minister Abdullah Massud, who wants an explanation as to the nature of the threats. “If Britain was afraid of threats to its citizens,” he stated, “it could have pulled them out quietly without causing all the commotion and excitement.”
Libya is in the process of rebuilding its nation following the revolution, and warnings of this nature can cause foreign investment to drop at a time when building and strengthening foreign relationships is critical to the Libyan economy.
No restrictions in this travel advice
Avoid all but essential travel to part(s) of country
Avoid all but essential travel to whole country
Avoid all travel to part(s) of country
Avoid all travel to whole country
The UK Foreign Commonwealth office advise: “We are aware of a specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi. We advise against all travel to Benghazi and urge any British nationals who are there against our advice to leave immediately.” The FCO further advise against all but essential travel to Tripoli, Zuwara, Az Zawiya, al Khums, Zlitan and Misrata, and the coastal towns from Ras Lanuf to the Egyptian Border, with the exception of Benghazi. Finally, the FCO advise against all travel to all other areas of Libya, including Benghazi. Travellers to the region are warned of high threat from terrorism and kidnapping, as well as retaliatory attacks targeting Western interests in the region following the French intervention in Mali.