22 January 2013

Algeria: U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing: Algeria


Excerpt from the United States Department of State daily press briefing:

QUESTION: Algeria?


QUESTION: Your statement yesterday said that you are hoping for a fuller accounting from the Algerians on how the attack took place, who was responsible, et cetera. Do you have that fuller accounting, and can you provide us any information?

MS. NULAND: Well, let me just start by saying that my colleague Jay Carney at the White House had extensive comments about an hour ago on where we are with the Algerians.

But just to repeat some of the things that he said there that we've been saying all the way through this: First and foremost, we have to underscore that the blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out; that we condemn this terrorist action in the strongest possible terms. We recognize that the Government of Algeria was dealing with a ruthless terrorist operation - people, as we said on Friday, who have no respect for human life. We, in our communications with the Algerians, as the Secretary made clear on both Thursday and Friday, urged them at every turn to do what they could in this difficult situation to protect the lives of the innocent.

We are moving forward, working with the Algerians, to get a fuller understanding of exactly what took place, how the terrorists were able to seize control of the facility, the decisions that the Algerians made in the context of the - dealing with this brutal attack. And we've also offered to be helpful in the investigation. Obviously, as the FBI's already made clear, they have an open investigation into the matter, and they will conduct that in coordination with Algerian officials and other relevant partners.

QUESTION: Just a couple points of clarification: You refer to the terrorists - you don't say AQIM at this point? Or are you not sure who was responsible?

MS. NULAND: Well, AQIM, as you know, has claimed responsibility for the attack. We are obviously, as I said, in consultations with the Government of Algeria to try to gain a fuller understanding of what took place, of who they deem to be responsible for this. But we don't have any reason to doubt AQIM's involvement in this attack.

QUESTION: And on the assistance, can you tell us what types of assistance you provided the Algerians in this operation? Were there U.S. personnel on the scene? Were - I don't know. Please, let us know.

MS. NULAND: Apart from saying that we offered assistance to the Government of Algeria, I think I'm not going to get into the details. If they want to talk about that, then I'm sure that they will.

QUESTION: You said (inaudible) - whether they accepted or denied assistance is - you'll leave open?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously there was information sharing and other things. Beyond that, I'm not going to get into details.


QUESTION: One of the biggest criticisms is that there allegedly was not enough information or contradictory information coming from the Algerians. Does the State Department believe that, that there was not enough?

MS. NULAND: You mean as the attack was --

QUESTION: As the attack was underway, that - even the President's statements seemed to kind of get into that. But especially - officials that we were speaking to obviously said that they were not getting enough information or it was contradictory. Is that correct?

MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know that the Secretary spoke to Prime Minister Sellal every single day, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, endeavoring to keep a channel of communication open at that level. We said here and the White House also said that we had open channels of communication among our terrorism experts all the way through.

These are very difficult, awful, tragic circumstances when these happen. I think the Secretary spoke to the fact that the facility was some thousand miles from Algiers, very remote. So one of the things that we have to understand better is how much information the Government of Algeria had at various different stages as this was going forward. It was obviously a complex attack, very difficult. There was - it was very fluid, and the folks on the ground were having to make very, very difficult calls. So we - as part of our ongoing conversation with the Government of Algeria, part of it will be to try to understand what was known when and by whom.

QUESTION: Victoria, Moktar Belmoktar --

QUESTION: Could you tell us about how you got your nationals out of the country once you knew they were safe? Did the - did you send a plane in to evacuate them? What were the mechanics of that?

MS. NULAND: I don't think I'm going to get into all the mechanics except to say that I think the Department of Defense has already confirmed that it was able to do some lifting of our personnel and other personnel out of the country at an appropriate moment, and also to take out the remains of our three fallen Americans. But I think I'm not going to get into chapter and verse here.

QUESTION: And we still have those five foreigners that the Algerians say are still missing. There's also unfortunately seven bodies that they haven't been able to identify. Can you confirm or let us know of any - if you believe any American citizens are among those 12?

MS. NULAND: We don't have any reason to believe that we still have Americans unaccounted for. I think you saw our statement yesterday in which we confirmed that we had three American dead as a result of this terrorist attack, and we had seven Americans who we knew were able to survive the attack. Those are our numbers still as of today.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you more direct - sorry if I'm before - were there any U.S. personnel at the scene in In Amenas or the immediate area at the time of the anti-terror operation?

MS. NULAND: Were - did we have Americans physically on site --


MS. NULAND: -- in the town?

QUESTION: Whether they were forces or providing any assistance or anything like that?

MS. NULAND: I don't have anything to share on that one way or the other, Brad.

QUESTION: Victoria.


QUESTION: Moktar Belmoktar, who apparently was running the operation from afar, is on the loose. He's in Mali. Do you know where - his whereabouts?

MS. NULAND: I don't have any information to share on that one either, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. By all accounts, the Algerians acted precipitously, recklessly, and almost dismissively of the lives of the hostages. Do you think this sets a very bad precedent for similar situations in the future?

MS. NULAND: Again, we're not, from here, going to be giving a value judgment about the way the Algerians dealt with this ruthless attack. I think Jay Carney said the same thing today, that the Algerians told us at the time, that the attackers intended to kill all of the hostages and to blow up the facility, which, as you know, was a gas plant. It would have been an enormous explosion which would have killed everybody. So obviously, the outcome could have been a whole lot more tragic than it ultimately was. That said, we are in touch with the Algerians to try to gain a fuller understanding of what took place, of the decisions that they made, so that we can all work together going forward against this kind of ruthless attack.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MS. NULAND: Tell me who you are.

QUESTION: On Greece - Tom Ellis from Kathimerini, Greece. The Greek opposition leader will be in the building tomorrow, and I was wondering if you know who he's meeting with.

MS. NULAND: I understand he will meet with Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Eric Rubin. That's the only confirmed meeting that I have for him at the moment.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. NULAND: Sorry, still on Algeria?


MS. NULAND: Apologies.

QUESTION: Yeah. The U.S. had a big two cases in Benghazi and also Algeria at this time. So does the U.S. Government recognize their activity by the Islamic extremists is lower in that region?


MS. NULAND: Uh-oh. The set's falling apart here. I'm sorry. I didn't understand the end of your question. Can you say it again?

QUESTION: Sure. As the U.S. Government, do you recognize the activity by the Islamic extremists in that region is stable, not growing right now?

MS. NULAND: Well, I would refer you to the comments that the Secretary made both on Thursday and on Friday. On Thursday when the Somali President was here and on Friday with Foreign Minister Kishida of Japan, she made clear that we have been concerned for a long time about the growing danger of radical extremism in this part of the world, about the connections across, which is why she was in Algeria in October, why we have the Global Counterterrorism Forum stood up, why we have counterterrorism training for some 10 governments across that region to try to strengthen their capacity, to try to improve border control, to help them to work together regionally. The countries in that region don't have a great history of collaborating between themselves and among themselves, whether it's on border, whether it's on intelligence sharing, et cetera.

So these are all issues that not only the United States but other members of the international community are going to have to intensify our efforts on. And she spoke to that quite clearly both on Thursday and Friday last week.


QUESTION: Stay in the region?

MS. NULAND: Still on Algeria?

QUESTION: On Mali, Mali.

MS. NULAND: Still on Algeria?



QUESTION: What you said now sounded like a threat by terrorists is a good excuse for authorities to act recklessly or --

MS. NULAND: I'm sorry, I didn't --

QUESTION: You said that the terrorists were threatening to kill everyone and to blow up the facility there, so that the Algerians --

MS. NULAND: I said that I was not in a position here, based on what we know so far, or perhaps at all, to pass judgment on the precise decisions that Algerian security forces made at the time. We were making clear throughout that we expected and wanted them to place a premium on the protection of innocent life. The Secretary said that herself on Thursday, on Friday.

That said, this was an absolutely ruthless attack. They made clear to us that they believed that they were facing a situation where all hostages might be killed, where the plant might be blown up. So again, I'm not placing a value judgment one way or the other, except to say that the terrorists are the ones who bear responsibility for this instance, and all governments, those in the region, those in the international community, have to work together to learn the lessons from this one and to tighten our cooperation and collaboration.


QUESTION: One more on Algeria?


QUESTION: Do you have any information on the cause of death for the three Americans who died?

MS. NULAND: I think we mentioned that to respect the privacy of these individuals, we're not going to be getting into any more details, Brad.


QUESTION: Let me be sure. The Secretary had a meeting and a conversation with Prime Minister of Algeria every day, but she didn't get her information a lot delayed by the Algerian military forces beforehand, right?

MS. NULAND: I'm not going to get into any more details than we did last week about those conversations. They were designed to give us a real-time picture of the Algerian understanding of the situation on the ground, to convey our concerns and the information that we had about Americans, and to coordinate at that political level as best we could. But I'm not going to get into any further details of those conversations.

Let's go back to Jennifer quickly on the understanding that I'm not going to be giving the Secretary's testimony for her from this --

QUESTION: That's fine. I just wanted to give you the chance to respond to this. It's our understanding that U.S. Marines who were part of the FAST team that was sent from Rota, Spain were asked to take off their military uniforms before they were sent into Tripoli, and I assume that that request came from the State Department for some sort of diplomatic reasons. I was just wondering why they were asked to. They were told to deplane and they had to change into civilian clothes. So was there a reason for that?

MS. NULAND: I don't have anything for you on that one way or the other. I'll refer you to the Pentagon on all that.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:42 p.m.)

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