Hostage Situation in Algeria – 18 January 2013January 18, 2013 in Algeria, Region Specific Guidance
Members of the radical group “Katiba Moulathamin,” an offshoot of Al-Qaeda-in the Islamic Maghreb, have claimed credit for occupying the facilities of the Tigantourine gas field near the Algerian desert city of Ain Amenas, close to the Libyan border, on Wednesday. The militants kept an undisclosed number of Algerians and foreigners hostage.
A speaker for the group indicated that this action was “in response to the flagrant interference of Algeria authorizing the use of its airspace by the French Air Force to conduct raids against northern Mali.”
The Algerian government, fearing immediate threat to the lives of the hostages, acted unilaterally in sending troops to storm the residential compound where the majority of hostages were presumed to be held, in order to prevent militants from leaving the country. Estimates show that around 30 hostages and 11 militants have been killed in the ensuing firefight.
As of Thursday morning, approximately 650 hostages have been freed, including 573 Algerians. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal told British Prime Minister David Cameron, “this first operation was complete but this is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas of the site.”
The Algerian state-run APS news agency says approximately 60 foreigners are still being held. Algerian forces continue to look for hostages and captors, among them American, European, and Japanese citizens.
US plane has landed near the facility to evacuate hostages.
ABOUT KATIBA MOULATHAMIN:
Katiba Moulathamin or “Those who Sign with Blood”, separated from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, but still take orders from the group. The group is presumed to be led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former fighter in Afghanistan who is known as a cigarette smuggler in the Maghreb.
The Associated Press conducted a telephone interview with Oumar Ould Hamaha, an associate of Belmokhtar. Hamaha explained Belmokhtar’s motivation for breaking away from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to form his own splinter group. Hamaha explained, “It’s so that we can better operate in the field that we have left this group which is tied to the ‘Maghreb’ appellation. We want to enlarge our zone of operation throughout the entire Sahara, going from Niger through to Chad and Burkina Faso.”
Although it is important to note that the chosen location is outside of the normal operating areas of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, attacks, such as this one, had previously been staged by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). The GIA, which has been dormant since approximately 2005, was a radical Islamist group in Algeria whose primary objective was to overthrow the Algerian government and to replace it with an Islamic state. During the 1990’s, the group used a wide variety of methods in its attacks, including bombings, shootings, hijackings and kidnappings. The GIA was also known to have targeted intellectuals, journalists and foreigners both within and outside Algeria. It has been reported that between 1992 and 2002, the GIA killed more than 100 foreigners, mostly European, in Algeria. The group has links with terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, throughout the Middle East as well as in Central and Southern Asia.
|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|
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to areas within 450km of the Mali and Niger borders and within 100km of the Mauritania border, and against all but essential travel to areas within 50km of the Libya and Tunisia borders, south of Tebessa. In addition, the FCO advises against all but essential travel to the following administrative districts (wilayas) east of Algiers: Boumerdès, Bouira and Tizi Ouzou. It is recommended to exercise extreme caution close to this area.
The FCO advises extreme caution in all travel to the wilayas of Adrar, Tamanrasset and Illizi, south of the towns of Arak and Illizi, and caution in all travel to the following wilayas east of Algiers: Bordj Bou Arreridj, Bejaia and Skikda.
There is a high threat from terrorism in Algeria. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers such as restaurants, hotels and shopping centres. Following French military intervention in Mali, there is a possibility of retaliatory attacks targeting Western interests in the region. We advise vigilance.