Magharebia (Washington DC)

29 January 2013

Algeria: Terrorists Target Gas Pipeline

Algiers — Al-Qaeda is again taking aim at the lifeblood of the Algerian economy.

Another al-Qaeda attack on an Algerian energy facility turned deadly Sunday night (January 27th) in Djebahia.

Terrorists targeted a camp where guards were keeping watch over a gas pipeline linking Bouira and Tizi Ouzou. The assault left three Algerian security guards dead and seven injured, Tout sur l'Algerie reported on Monday (January 28th).

The victims reportedly prevented al-Qaeda's El Farouk brigade from blowing up the Sonatrach pipeline.

After the attack, "the army was deployed in the region and launched a massive combing operation", the source added.

Aside from the criminal act itself, it is the terrorists' choice of target which is worrying the Algerian public and authorities. Once again, terrorists have targeted the very heart of the national economy: gas facilities.

Since the In Amenas hostage crisis, Algerian officials have agreed that security arrangements at strategic oil and gas sites should be reviewed.

In a statement given to Associated Press on Saturday, Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said that it was necessary to reassess and reinforce security at oil and gas installations.

"The attack at In Amenas probably makes it necessary for both Algeria, as the host country for these investments, and also companies operating in Algeria to reassess security arrangements with a view to reinforcing them," Medelci said.

"What happened at In Amenas will probably lead to some adjustments in this regard," he added.

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi said Sunday that Algerian authorities would "conduct a review of security arrangements at industrial facilities".

Yousfi had previously given assurance during a visit to the In Amenas complex on January 21st that "Algeria has the means necessary to make its energy installations secure".

"We will strengthen security and we will rely first and foremost on our own means," Yousfi said at the time.

The gas complex at In Amenas, which produces 8 billion cubic metres of gas per year, is jointly operated by BP, Sonatrach and Statoil. The British giant is responsible for internal security at the site and the Algerian gendarmerie is responsible for external security.

Internal security officers are unarmed. BP said it did not feel it was necessary to request armed security guards prior to the terrorist attack because of the significant presence of security officers.

"We and Statoil decided not to have armed guards on site. Given the large military presence in the area, we took the view that armed guards were not required on the site," BP spokesman Robert Wine told the New York Times.

After the terrorist attack on the In Amenas complex, Norwegian company Statoil announced its intention to review existing security measures.

"We will go through all elements of this terrible event, including questions connected to security," said Bard Glad Pedersen, a Statoil spokesman. The company had ultimately underestimated the risks in Algeria, according to Stein Bredal, a former member of the Statoil board.

Tunisia is also looking to step up security at oil and gas facilities. TAP quoted security sources as saying Tuesday that special combat units were set up to monitor the various sites in the wake of events in the Sahara.

"This measure is prevention against any terrorist act targeting these fields, especially those located on the Tunisian-Algerian border," TAP quoted the security official as saying.

Extra troops and military equipment have also been sent to the barracks at Remada and Dehiba, along the Tunisia-Libya border, AFP reported.

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