I am a Burmese exile taking a near-permanent refuge in New York and Sydney. Here are my essays about Burma and anything else I feel like writing about. And posting the articles I like from selected sites. Bridging Burma to the world this Blog is more of a Politically-Oriented Literary Blog than a Plain News Blog or a Sophisticated Thoughts Blog.
Islamists attacked a gas field in eastern Algeria, killing two people and
seizing hostages, including Westerners, Algeria's interior minister said
Wednesday. The incident may be linked to France's military support for the
government of nearby Mali, according to reports from the region.
Westerners, accompanied by Algerian security forces, were en route to In Amenas
Airport when they were attacked early in the morning by a group of no more than
20 people, the official, Diho Weld Qabliyeh, told Algerian state television.
security forces returned fire, and the attackers withdrew to the base of the
petroleum operation, some 3 kilometers away, he said. Upon arrival at the base,
he continued, the attackers "took in a number of Westerners and Algerians
-- some people told us they were nine, some people told us 12."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Americans were among the
hostages. Accounts over the number differed. An Algerian and a Westerner were
killed in the attack, and two other Westerners, two of the security forces and
two guards from the base were wounded, Qabliyeh said.
spokesperson for Britain's Foreign Office, citing the Algerian government, said
a British national was among the dead. British Foreign Minister William Hague,
speaking in Sydney, Australia, said the captives included "a number of
British nationals." Hague said the Foreign Office had sent a "rapid
deployment team" to Algiers to beef up staffing at the embassy.
military forces were surrounding the building holding the hostage-takers and
the hostages, Qabliyeh said. Late Wednesday, the hostage-takers released the
Algerians they had been holding but continued holding the Westerners, Algerian
state television reported.
has issued demands, but they elicited no response, Qabliyeh said. "The
authorities do not negotiate, no negotiations; we have received their demands,
but we didn't respond to them," he added.
Mauritanian news agency, Al Akhbar, said the attackers demanded in a news
release an end to "brutal aggression on our people in Mali." It cited
"blatant intervention of the French crusader forces in Mali" and
accused the world of having left Syria's people "groaning under the
pressure of the butcher" President Bashar al-Assad.
release said they chose to carry out the operation in Algeria because the
country's president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, had allowed French military forces
to cross Algerian air space in attacking Mali.
official was skeptical. "The level of planning suggests that this was in
train before the French overflights ever took place," the official said.
That view was echoed by another U.S. official, who told CNN's Erin Burnett
that, "as of now, the attack appeared organized," not put together
quickly or opportunistic.
official said it was likely that the attackers had cited Algeria's opening of
its air space to French fighters as the reason for the attack to protect their
operational methods and make the attack appear spontaneous. The news
release put the number of hostages at "more than 40," including seven
Americans, two French, two British and a number of other Europeans.
Kidnapper, smuggler, and Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
Islamist group claiming responsibility for the attack told the Mauritanian News
Agency and Sahara Media that 41 "Westerners including seven Americans, (as
well as) French, British and Japanese citizens have been taken hostage." But
the real number of U.S. hostages could be as few as three, two U.S. officials
Algerian Press Service, citing a source from the provincial administration of
Illizi, reported that "a little more than 20 foreign nationals are held
Secretary Leon Panetta, in Europe meeting with NATO allies, called the incident
"a terrorist attack." Nine or 10 Americans were working at the site,
and U.S. officials were trying to determine who had been abducted, a State
Department official told CNN.
source said the abductors were demanding that members of their group being held
prisoner be released and sent to northern Mali. The official was not clear
about where the prisoners were.
first priority is to gain understanding of what is happening," a senior
U.S. official with direct knowledge of the matter said. "We are working on
ways to improve that now."
official added that a Special Operations team -- the Commanders In-extremis
Force -- "is on a very short string." He said that "another
important piece will be for Libya to really lock down the nearby border on
their side," so personnel and weapons cannot get through.
official said the capability existed "to see the area" around the
facility and that the ability to monitor the situation will "improve
unit is prepared to move within four hours of being ordered to do so, a U.S.
defense official told CNN. The official said that, before the hostage incident,
the unit had been headed to Senegal, where it was to be on standby for missions
in Mali, but that it may now move elsewhere.
U.S. official said that any operation would take time to unfold. "This is
not the type of mission that you plan and execute overnight, it's just
not," the official said. "We don't know specifically how many
militants or hostages there are. But with so little information, if you're
talking dozens of militants and up to 40 hostages, I don't see how you go in
without killing half the hostages."
second official said that Marine Corps' Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams
would be deployed only to augment security at any nearby embassies. None is
under threat. They would not be deployed for field operations in any rescue
attempt, the official said.
Pentagon's Africa Command is taking the military lead on the matter, and the
State Department and FBI are the lead agencies in contact with the Algerian
government, a Defense official said.
official said commanders have assets "not too far away," including
aircraft from the Air Force's base in Aviano, Italy, and a Marine Corps FAST
team in Sigonella, Italy. Any action would need to be approved by Algeria,
"which is more than just a formality," the official said.
spokesman for the group -- whose name means "those who sign with
blood" -- said that jihadists controlled the plant. Saying that the
operation was an act of revenge against Algeria, the spokesman said 400
Algerian soldiers were on the site "who have not been targeted by
spokesman for the Norwegian Prime Minister's office told CNN that "13
Norwegians, all employees of Statoil, are involved in the incident at Amenas
gas field in Algeria." The UK Foreign Office said British nationals were
caught up in the incident.
foreign minister said there were reports that an Irish citizen was involved;
the office of the French president refused comment on reports that French
citizens were among the hostages.
BP, which operates the In Amenas field in a joint venture with Sonatrac, the
Algerian national oil company, and Norway's Statoil, said it was attacked by
"unidentified armed people" who were occupying the site.
Executive Vice President Lars Christian Bacher said 17 of its employees -- 13
of them Norwegian -- were in or around the facility at the time of the attack.
"We have received information that five of the 17 are brought to safety in
a military camp in the area," he said in a statement.
Norwegian and one is a Canadian resident; two people were injured and have
received medical treatment, he said. The gas field lies about 60 kilometers
west of the Libyan border and some 1,300 kilometers from the capital, Algiers,
attack comes four days after Libyan, Algerian and Tunisian prime ministers
reached security agreements during a summit in Libya, where they agreed to work
together against terrorist threats.
statement, Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, called the attack "the latest
demonstration of a large and growing radical movement across North Africa"
and said the French "have acted appropriately" in intervening in
in the Islamic Maghreb and its offshoots have been conducting regular
kidnappings for years -- financing much of its operations through ransoms,
earning millions," the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
network has planted deep roots in Europe. In recent years, cells have been
broken up by authorities in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. In
Mali, its brethren are imposing the strictest interpretation of Islamic law --
banning music and chopping off limbs. Large amounts of weapons are flowing into