Islamic Militants Kill 3, Kidnap 41 Foreign Workers– Including 7 Americans– at In Amenas Gas Field in Algeria
The first blowback from France’s military intervention in Mali’s civil war has come in the form of three dead and 41 kidnapped foreign gas workers, including 7 Americans, in Algeria.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Islamist militant group that operates across borders in the Sahara desert, is claiming responsibility for the attack on the In Amenas gas field in southern Algeria on Wednesday. The militants killed three people– an Algerian security guard, a Briton and a Frenchman– and abducted dozens more. The group claimed its action was in retaliation for Algeria’s decision to allow French aircraft, which have been bombing Islamist rebels including AQIM fighters, to use Algerian airspace.
But according to Mauritania’s ANI news agency, which is in regular contact with Islamic militants operating in the region, the attack and kidnapping were the work of the ‘Blood Battalion,’ a militant group led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, aka “Laaouar,” that split from AQIM last year. Belmokhtar, an Algerian, is believed to be responsible for the abduction and execution of numerous French nationals in Saharan nations in recent years.
“The operation was in response to the blatant interference by Algeria and the opening of its air space to French aircraft to bomb northern Mali,” a ‘Blood Battalion’ member told ANI.
Also reported kidnapped were five Japanese from the Japanese engineering company JGC Corp, a French national, an Irishman, a Norwegian and several Britons.
“A terrorist group, heavily armed and using three vehicles, launched an attack this Wednesday at 5 a.m. against a Sonatrach base Tigantourine, near In Amenas, about 100 km (60 miles) from the Algerian and Libyan border,” an Algerian government statement said.
Sonatrach is the Algerian state gas company. The In Amenas facility is also operated by British Petroleum (BP) and the Norwegian corporation Statoil.
According to BP, armed militants are still occupying the facility.
“The site was attacked and occupied by a group of unidentified armed people at about 0500 UK time. Contact with the site is extremely difficult, but we understand that armed individuals are still occupying the In Amenas operations site,” the company said.
The Algerians working at the facility have reportedly been freed.
There were warnings that Islamic militants, specifically AQIM and ‘Blood Batallion,’ would target foreigners for their governments’ intervention in the region.
“You can prevent a war from starting, but who can control its consequences or prevent it from spreading to other areas?” Belmokhtar said in November. “Any country which now tries to impose anything else or intervenes in Azawad (northern Mali) will be regarded as an oppressor, an aggressor who is attacking a Muslim nation which is enforcing Sharia law within its territory,”
France sent warplanes and ground troops to Mali to assist the government of Dioncounda Traoré (installed by US-trained Capt. Amadou Sanogo in a 2012 military coup) in halting the southward advance of Islamist groups who have seized control of the entire northern half of the country. Some Islamists want independence from the south, others, like Ansar Dine, want to implement Sharia law throughout Mali. French air strikes have killed over 100 militants and, reportedly, 11 civilians, including 3 children.
Islamists have vowed to “strike at the heart of France” in retaliation for the French intervention in Mali.
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