Algiers — Almost one year following the terrorist attack at the Tiguentourine gas plant near In Amenas, the foreign companies that operate the site reached an agreement with Algerian authorities to resume work.
Statoil and British Petroleum (BP) workers can once again return to their workplace, which has been deserted since the terrorist attack of January 16th, 2013. Thirty-eight civilians were killed in the attack.
The two companies demanded the introduction of security measures to protect expatriates working in this sensitive border area with Libya.
Following a series of meetings between the companies and military officials in the region, the two parties agreed to create a landing strip at the Tiguentourine gas plant to guarantee safe passage for workers.
Abbas Bouamama, a senator and key official in the wilaya of Illlizi, told Magharebia that "thanks to this landing strip, workers will no longer be forced to spend the night in Illizi".
The foreign companies have decided to move their site facilities to Hassi Messaoud in the wilaya of Ouargla, a quiet region with no reported acts of terrorism over recent years. In other words, workers will operate on the site during the day from 8 in the morning, then return to their site facilities in Hassi Messaoud in the evening.
"Terrorist groups tend to operate at night, knowing that it is easier to spot them by day," Bouamama said.
The landing strip should be finished in February, he added, noting that Algerian authorities rejected a demand from the foreign companies to handle their own security at their site facilities.
Safety measures had been stepped up since hostages were taken last year, but the unstable security situation in Libya has complicated matters: "It is no secret that the borders on the Libyan side are beyond the central Libyan authorities' control," he noted.
Some even fear there could be a revenge attack in the Tiguentourine area.
Members of the terrorist group led by Mohamed Lamine Bencheneb, who was killed during the hostage-taking, are still active in Ghad (a Libyan town very close to the Algerian border). There are reports that the terrorist leader's brother is there.
The group is suspected of preparing for a terrorist operation in Tiguentourine "as a revenge", added Bouamama.
Such suspicions were backed by the October 23rd discovery of a considerable cache of weapons in Illizi near the Libyan border, some 200km from the Tiguentourine gas complex.
"It is quite conceivable that those weapons were intended for use in a terrorist operation in the region," he explained. Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra on December 28th said he understood the challenges facing Libyan authorities in ensuring borders security.
"Algeria acknowledges the difference between a country which cannot control its borders and one which does not want to," the minister said during a press conference.
Algerian authorities delivered a "map showing the presence of the terrorist group in the region" to their Libyan counterparts one day after the Algerian Prime Minister's visit to Tripoli, Echorouk reported on January 1st.
El Hadi Maydi, a journalist with expertise on security matters, said, "The two countries are forced to co-operate to secure their borders."
"No-one can fail to be aware that Libya has become a refuge for terrorist groups from al-Qaeda fleeing Mali following the operations led by the French army," he added.
"Co-operation must not stop simply at training the Libyan army and police, or at the logistical level," he noted. "On the ground, Algeria could benefit from information supplied by the Libyan people living on the border with Algeria, particularly in Zintan and Ghat."