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Entries in Algeria (15)

Wednesday
Jan232013

Were Attackers in Algeria Also Involved in Benghazi Raid?

STR/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A senior Algerian official says that a militant captured following the deadly siege at a BP natural gas complex in the Sahara claims some Egyptian members of the terrorist group that occupied the facility last week also took part in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11.

According to a story in Wednesday’s New York Times, the militant was one of three kidnappers taken alive by Algerian special forces while 29 others were killed along with at least 38 hostages, three of them Americans who worked at the plant.

The Algerian official quoted by the Times did not say if the captured militant’s Benghazi claims could be considered viable or how his confession came about.

If true, however, it would suggest that terrorists are joining forces throughout North Africa, particularly after the so-called Arab spring and the fall of Col. Mommar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.

What might boost the veracity of the possible Algeria-Benghazi connection are reports from U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials that Ansar al-Shariah members who led the attack on the Benghazi consulate have links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a group currently active in Mali.

However, American officials don’t believe AQIM was involved in the attack on the consulate where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

More details about the Algerian hostage situation are expected to be unveiled on Wednesday when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before Congress about failures of the State Department to adequately protect the consulate in Libya from terrorists.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan212013

Rep. Rogers: US Knew 'Something Big' Was Coming Before Algeria Crisis

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that before the deadly Algerian hostage crisis, the U.S. had several reports that "something big" was coming against a Western target -- but did not have the details the government needed to prevent it.

"Just like the Benghazi event, we had lots of threat streams...There are reports coming in from all different types of sources saying, 'Something big is going to happen,'" Rep. Mike Rogers (R.-Mich.) told ABC News on Sunday.  "We didn't know for sure, for certain it would be this particular place under those circumstances, but we knew that they were trying to find a...Western target, which this clearly was."

Roger's comments came a day after the Algerian military forced a bloody end to the four-day hostage crisis at a BP joint-venture facility in the Sahara on Saturday.  Nearly all the terrorists and at least 23 hostages were killed, including one American.  Several Americans managed to escape the facility alive, but the fate of two others remains unknown.

Late Sunday, a video emerged that was reportedly shot during the crisis in which the leader of the terrorists, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed the "blessed" hostage taking as a victory for al Qaeda and said it was done to force the West to abandon the recent French-led military intervention in Mali.  The group also previously demanded that the U.S. release Omar Abdel-Rahman, the man who planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Before the Algerian counter-attack, one of the hostage-takers, Abdel Rahman el-Nigeri, reportedly singled out the Americans at the facility for "slaughter" should the terrorists not get what they wanted.

"The Americans that are here, we will kill them," el-Nigeri said, according to an audio tape aired on Algeria's Ennahar TV.  "We will slaughter them."

Survivors said the attackers focused on Americans and other foreigners, and one of the captors spoke excellent English.  Many of the terrorists were dressed as security guards, making the decision to run for it difficult.

"When you don't know what's out there," said survivor Alan Wright, "and we know that the terrorists are dressed the same as the security forces, that was a huge decision.  Do you stay or do you go?"

"For our people in Algeria, for their family and friends, this has been and continues to be a distressing and horrific time," said BP chief executive Bob Dudley.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Belmokhtar's group reportedly told London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Alawsat that despite the terrorists killed and no public concession concerning Mali, he considered the operation "successful by all standards."

Successful or not, Rogers said the incident was evidence of a real national security threat that has emerged from al Qaeda in North Africa.

"Clearly this is a growing threat in the region.  They feel emboldened," he said, citing the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012.  "It can't just be Algeria. It has to be the whole northern Africa region and it needs to be a cohesive policy that is well-coordinated that covers all the different problems that we're finding in northern Africa... It really is naive to believe this isn't getting worse."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan202013

Algerian Hostage Crisis: Reported Tape of Terrorists Emerges

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Algerian TV has broadcast what it says is audiotape of terrorists at the In Amenas gas plant threatening to blow up the facility and "slaughter" U.S. hostages unless 100 imprisoned "comrades" are released, and also claiming that the hostages have been forced to wear bombs.

The recordings that aired on Algeria's Ennahar TV were made before the four-day hostage crisis at the BP joint venture facility in the Sahara ended with nearly all terrorists and at least 23 hostages dead.

"The Americans that are here, we will kill them," says Abdel Rahman el-Nigeri, a leader of the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who held the plant, in Arabic. "We will slaughter them."

A second person, identified by Ennahar TV as a hostage, says, in heavily accented English, "We have prisoners. We have hostages with bombs … on the body."

In Arabic, El-Nigeri demands that 100 "comrades" who were arrested 15 years ago be released. "Our demands are so easy, so easy if you want to negotiate with us," says el Nigeri. "Either we get our brothers out or we die."

He says that some hostages are still living after the Algerian military's initial assault, but warns "we shall bomb them if the Algerian Army gets near to us. Now they are heading towards us, God willing."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan202013

Algeria Hostage Crisis: Seven Americans Escaped, One Dead, Fate of Two Uncertain

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The four-day hostage crisis at an Algerian natural gas plant has left at least one American dead, and the fate of two more is of growing concern, but seven Americans were among the dozens of Westerners who escaped unharmed.

The siege of the In Amenas facility ended Saturday, when the Algerian military's final assault retook the BP joint venture plant in the Sahara from the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who had raided it Wednesday morning.

The Algerian army killed all the terrorists, but not before they apparently executed the remaining hostages. Over the course of the siege, 23 hostages died, and Algerian officials fear the toll may go higher.

"For our people in Algeria, for their family and friends, this has been and continues to be a distressing and horrific time," said BP chief executive Bob Dudley.

The dead American was identified by the U.S. State Department as 58-year-old Fred Buttaccio of suburban Houston. The fate of two other Americans remains uncertain.

Survivors said the attackers focused only on Americans and Westerners, including a large British contingent.

Said British prime minister David Cameron, "Tragically, we now know that three British nationals have been killed and a further three are believed to be dead; and also a further British resident is also believed to be dead.

Most of the 100 or more Western workers who were at the facility when it was raided Wednesday were ultimately freed or escaped.

The Algerian military said it killed at least 32 of the terrorists, and displayed their bodies on Algerian TV.

Officials said the terrorists were heavily armed with automatic weapons and explosive-packed suicide belts and were preparing to blow up the natural gas facility.

In a statement, President Obama said, "Today, the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the families of all those who were killed and injured in the terrorist attack in Algeria. The blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out, and the United States condemns their actions in the strongest possible terms. ... This attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa.

 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jan192013

Algeria Hostage Crisis Over, More Hostages Reported Dead

Hemera/Thinkstock(ALGIERS, Algeria) -- After the Algerian military's final assault on terrorists holding hostages at a gas complex, the four-day hostage crisis is over, but apparently with additional loss of life among the foreign hostages.

The Japanese fear "very grave" news, and multiple casualties from among the 10 citizens working at the In Amenas gas plant are feared.

According to state media, 29 militants are dead. Many of the remaining hostages appear to have been freed safely, with some accounts saying 16 have been rescued.

Media reports also say that a total of 19 hostages have died during the Algerian military's assaults on the al Qaeda-linked terrorists who took over the BP joint venture facility on Wednesday.

One American, Fred Buttaccio of Texas, has been confirmed dead by the U.S. State Department.

But another American, Mark Cobb of Corpus Christi, Texas is now confirmed as safe.

In a statement Saturday, BP said that of 18 BP employees working at the plant in the Sahara, 14 are now safe, two with non-life-threatening injuries. The status of four employees, however, remains unknown. The facility is a joint venture with the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian national oil company.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jan192013

Algerian Hostages: Dead US Hostage Identified as Fred Buttaccio

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The death toll at an Algerian gas plant where al Qaeda-linked terrorists took hostages continues to climb, with at least one American and 11 other hostages reported to have been killed.

The Algerian military has twice stormed the In Amenas natural gas facility but authorities say the situation is still not resolved, and on Saturday a number of Western workers, including Americans, apparently remained hostages.

The State Department has confirmed that 58-year-old Fred Buttaccio of suburban Houston was killed at some point during the attack and subsequent rescue efforts.

"We can confirm the death of U.S. citizen Frederick Buttaccio in the hostage situation in Algeria," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "We express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Out of respect for the family's privacy, we have no further comment."

But another American, Mark Cobb of Corpus Christi, Texas is now confirmed as safe. Sources close to his family say Cobb, who is a senior manager of the BP facility, is safe and reportedly sent a text message " I'm alive."

The al-Qaeda linked group claims the attack on the facility in the middle of the Sahara desert had been planned for some two months.

In both assaults, the Algerian Army, using tanks and helicopters, found the terrorists were heavily armed and prepared to fight to the death.

One official described the aftermath as carnage.

Hostages who escaped or were freed said the terrorists only wanted Westerners or Americans, and were brutal in their treatment of some of them.

A Scottish worker named Ian said he had "never been so relieved as when they came and got us off site." Ian said he was "very, very relieved to be out. Obviously, we still don't know what's happening back on site. As much as we're glad to be out, our thoughts are with colleagues still there at the moment." Another worker, Stephen McFaul of Ireland, said he escaped as the terrorists tried to drive them to another location and the Algerian army opened fire on the convoy.

American officials had urged the Algerians to go slow, out of concern for the safety of the hostages, but that advice was ignored.

"They didn't let the terrorists dig in," said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterror advisor and now an ABC News consultant. "They didn't negotiate. They moved quickly."

The attack has led the US and its allies to marshal resources to track down the alleged mastermind, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who operates from a safe haven in the northern part of the country of Mali, a thousand miles away.

French military aircraft were already taking action against Belmokhtar even before the Algerian attack, according to ABC News correspondent Bazi Kanani, who is in Mali's capital, Bamako.

In southern Mali, according to Kanani, "there's limited information coming down from the north where journalists aren't allowed to go, but we do know one of the first targets of the French war planes that arrived one week ago was the headquarters of the leader of the terror group involved in the Algerian hostage crisis. "

U.S. officials say they won't send troops to Mali, but they are sharing intelligence with France, and by Monday, the U.S. Air Force will be helping to fly French troops and equipment here.

U.S. officials say they will work with the French and others to make sure Belmokhtar pays a price.

"Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide," said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan182013

British PM on Hostages in Algeria: 'This Is a Continuing Situation'

Peter Macdiarmid/WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Britain's prime minister briefed his Parliamentary colleagues on Friday with the latest information on the hostage situation going on at a natural gas facility in Algeria.

David Cameron held back on some details because, "This is a continuing situation and we'll do our best to keep Parliament and the public updated.  We hope this will reach a conclusion shortly."

He said he spoke to the Algerian prime minister on Thursday on why the country decided to launch a military raid.

"He said that the terrorists tried to flee, that they judged there to be an immediate threat to the lives of the hostages and have felt obliged to respond," Cameron said Friday.

"He told me that this first operation was complete but this is a large and complex site and they are still pursing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas of the site," the British prime minister continued.

Cameron added that Algeria is "looking at all possible routes to resolve this crisis."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan172013

Leon Panetta: As Many as Eight Americans Held by Al Qaeda in Algeria

Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Algerian government has reportedly mounted a military operation to rescue dozens of hostages, including Americans, being held by an al Qaeda-affiliated group at a natural gas plant in Algeria.

According to British officials, a military counterterror operation is underway.  Reports that as many as 35 hostages and 15 Islamist militants at the facility in In Amenas have been killed during a helicopter raid have not been confirmed.  

According to an unconfirmed report by an African news outlet, the militants say seven hostages survived the attack, including two Americans.

In a statement, BP, a joint owner of the facility, said it had been told by both the British and Algerian governments that "the Algerian Army is attempting to take control of the In Amenas site."

"Sadly, there have been some reports of casualties but we are still lacking any confirmed or reliable information," said the statement.  "There are also reports of hostages being released or escaping."

Algeria troops had surrounded the compound in the Sahara desert, where hostages from the U.S., Algeria, Norway, Japan, France and other countries are being held by terrorists who claim to be part of Al Qaeda and are led by a one-eyed smuggler known as Mr. Marlboro.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told ABC News that as many as 100 hostages are being held, and that there may be seven or eight Americans among them.  The kidnappers have released a statement saying there are "more than 40 crusaders" held "including 7 Americans."

U.S. officials had previously confirmed to ABC News that there were at least three Americans held hostage at the natural gas facility jointly owned by BP, the Algerian national oil company and a Norwegian firm at In Amenas, Algeria.

"I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation," said Panetta.

The terror strike came without warning Wednesday morning when an estimated 20 gunmen first attacked a bus carrying workers escorted by two cars carrying security teams.

At least one worker was killed.  The terrorists moved on to the residential compound where they are now holed up with the American and other western hostages, including Norwegian, French, British and Japanese nationals.

There is growing concern Thursday morning about the fate of the hostages, and intelligence officials say the situation is tense.  Without the element of surprise, they say, a raid to free them will be very dangerous.

"They are expecting an attack and therefore, it's going to be very, very difficult for Algerian special forces to sneak in without being seen," said Richard Clarke, a former White House counter terrorism advisor and now an ABC News consultant.

Intelligence officials believe the attack was masterminded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a rogue al Qaeda leader who also runs an African organized crime network that reportedly has made tens of millions of dollars in ransom from kidnappings and smuggling.  He is known as Mr. Marlboro because of his success smuggling diamonds, drugs and cigarettes.

Belmokhtar fought in Afghanistan alongside the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1990s, and lost an eye.  He was formerly associated with al Qaeda's North African affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and was said to be a liaison with al Qaeda's international leadership.  

Belmokhtar split with AQIM late last year over what other Islamist militants considered his preference for lucre over jihad.  He remains affiliated with al Qaeda, however, heading a breakaway group that calls itself the "Signers with Blood Brigade" or the "Veiled Brigade."

According to a Canadian diplomat who was held hostage by Belmokhtar, Mr. Marlboro is "very, very cold, very businesslike."

Robert Fowler was a UN diplomat in Africa when he was kidnapped and held hostage by Belmokhtar for four months in 2009.

"I was afraid for my life all the time," recalled Fowler, "when I woke up in the morning and when I went to sleep at night.  He's a very serious player."  Fowler wrote a book about his ordeal called A Season in Hell.

Intelligence officials say the situation would be much easier if all the terrorists wanted was money.  But Belmokhtar's group says it will not release the hostages in Algeria until France stops its military action against the al Qaeda regime that has taken control of the northern sector of the neighboring country of Mali.

"We bear the Algerian and French government and the countries of the hostages' full responsibility in not speeding up the implementation of our demands [to stop] the aggressive assault on our people in Mali," said the group in its latest statement.

France says it will not negotiate with terrorists.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct292012

Hillary Clinton Urging Algeria to Back Military Intervention in Mali

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Algeria Monday, pressing officials in the North African country to do more to fight terrorism and support military intervention in neighboring Mali.

Islamist extremists have seized control of northern Mali where they are accused of numerous human rights abuses as they enforce strict Sharia law.  They are also working with an al Qaeda affiliate that originated in Algeria -- the same affiliate Clinton says is responsible for the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. 

Concerned about the spread of al Qaeda into Mali, the U.S. has said it would be willing to provide logistical support if an African-led force is sent to reconquer the north.  Algeria has been opposed to military intervention, concerned it would destabilize the border region in its country. 

A State Department spokesman said on Monday that Algeria is warming up to the idea of military intervention in Mali and that support from Algeria is critical in the fight against al Qaeda in the region.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Sep162011

US Warns Oil Companies of Al Qaeda Plan to Attack Planes in Algeria

Scott Peterson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) The State Department said Friday that it has warned oil companies in Algeria about a plot by the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to attack their charter planes.
 
“The U.S. Embassy in Algiers received threat information and both the Embassy and the Overseas Security Advisory Council acted quickly to alert potential targets to the threat,” the department said in a paper statement.
 
The revelation is somewhat controversial because the U.S. Embassy in Algeria did not issue a public alert about the terror threat as it is required to do by law.

State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner declined to provide more specifics about the threat, but prospective attack underlines the urgency in neighboring Libya where the State Department is scrambling to find thousands of so-called MANPADs that were in Gadhafi’s weapon depots before they fall into the wrong hands. So far only a handful have been recovered, but officials caution that many weapons depots may have been destroyed in NATO attacks.
 
On Friday the TNC requested that the U.S. send more help to locate those weapons.
 
“While we and our international partners have put considerable pressure on al-Qa’ida and have degraded much of the group’s abilities, including its capacity to raise money, train recruits, and plan attacks outside of the region, we continue to face a significant terrorist threat from al-Qa’ida, its affiliates, and its adherents.  We continue to work very closely with our key partners on the threat from international terrorism, including the role that al-Qaida continues to play.   Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.  The Government of Algeria has long been one of our strongest partners in this fight,” the State Department statement continued.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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