Algiers — Terrorists from Mauritania to Egypt took part in the bloody assault on an Algerian gas facility.
At least 37 foreigners and one Algerian hostage were killed during the terrorist takeover of a gas facility in the Algerian desert, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal revealed Monday (January 21st).
Twenty-nine terrorists were also killed by Algerian security forces during their operation to free the captives held at the In Anemas gas complex, Sellal said. Speaking to reporters Monday evening, the premier added that three militants were captured.
The assailants included 11 Tunisians, three Algerians, two Nigeriens, a Canadian, and others from Egypt, Mali, and Mauritania.
Most of the militants came from Mali, AFP quoted Sellal as saying. The terrorists crossed through Niger before allegedly entering Algeria from Libya. Sellal added that the group's leader was Mohamed el-Amine Bencheneb, an Algerian militant known to the country's security services, who was killed in the siege.
Algerian Special Forces managed to free 685 Algerian and 107 foreign hostages during the rescue mission.
Sellal also revealed that a Canadian of Arab origin by the name of "Shaddad" communicated with the kidnappers during the siege via the internet in Mauritania.
Algerian Communication Minister Mohamed Said said that his country was the target of a multi-national crime carried out by a group comprising of terrorists from various nationalities with a three-fold goal: to undermine Algeria's security and stability, target Algerians' source of income by hitting the country's oil sector and drag Algeria into the war in Mali.
Said added that these groups want to subjugate Algeria, one of the countries that remained stable in the face of unrest in neighbouring countries.
El Moulethemine Brigade ("The Masked Brigade") leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed credit for the attack in a video released January 17th. Belmokhtar created the "Singed-In Blood Brigade" after splitting from al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and declaring his allegiance to the parent al-Qaeda organisation.
Experts say Belmokhtar, also known as Khaled Abou El Abass or Laaouar, has compiled fighters from different nationalities, especially Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, as well as Malians, taking advantage of instability in the Arab Spring region. He has tried to give his new branch a "multi-national" dimension in the face of the global counter-terrorism alliance.
Belmokhtar's main goal is "to form an international terrorist group in the Sahel and Sahara, like al-Qaeda which includes fighters holding various nationalities", according to former military officer Taher Ben Thamer. He added that the terrorist hopes to control vast areas of the desert at the expense of other local and regional groups.
Ben Thamer noted fierce competition between regional terror groups and a strong rivalry between their leaders to control money obtained from smuggling and ransom payments.
"Belmokhtar is trying to impose himself as a key actor in the region," Ben Thamer added. "He succeeded, at least in the media, to impose his name in the region."
He added that the group he heads "may repeat the attempt another time and may target other countries and the interests of foreign countries so as to be the number one in the region and push aside all other terrorist groups".
"An attack on the In Amenas gas complex was an attempt to attack Algeria's economic lifeblood and the country's economic partners," said Mohamed Sameem, an academic who specialises in security affairs.
Sameem noted that the participation of Canadian terrorists in the operation "was a point that the group was keen on highlighting, to send a message that citizens from Western countries are fighting along the elements of these groups; something that would give an international dimension to their operation".
Testimonies of survivors showed that one of the terrorists was speaking fluent English. It was later confirmed that he was the Canadian element in the group, who talked to a number of British hostages in their own language, yelling at them to open the door using a North American English accent.
Prime Minister Sellal said that a Canadian terrorist gave orders to his elements to blow up the gas plant to stop the advance of Special Forces. He added that the group actually tried to blow up the facility when they threw a bomb that caused a blast in the gas pipeline, before civil defence personnel and workers intervened to put out the fire.
Sellal noted the regional dimension to the terrorist operation by talking about the deteriorating security situation along Algeria's southern border as a result of armed Islamists' control of vast areas of Mali.
"We reject the establishment of a Sahelistan on our southern borders," Sellal said, stressing the need to counter terrorist threats in northern Mali.