Mali chaos spreads to Algeria

It’s a good thing Barack Obama “decimated” al-Qaeda, so this couldn’t possibly be happening:

Islamist militants from Mali have attacked and taken control of a natural gas field partly owned by BP in southern Algeria, killing two and reportedly taking 41 people hostage, including seven Americans.

A group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, called a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its subsidiaries had carried out the operation on the Ain Amenas gas field, taking 41 hostages from nine or 10 different nationalities.

The group’s claim could not be independently substantiated and typically there would be fewer than 20 foreign staff members on site on a typical day, along with hundreds of Algerian employees.

The group said the attack was in revenge for Algeria’s support of France’s operation against Al Qaeda-linked Malian rebels groups far to the southeast.

That’s from Fox News, which reports the group calls itself by the rather Lovecraftian name “Those Who Signed In Blood.”

As the report suggests, we are waiting for official confirmation of the number and identity of the hostages.  BP has forwarded enough information to make it clear that we have a very real crisis on our hands:

In a statement BP said the site was “attacked and occupied by a group of unidentified armed people,” and some of its personnel are believed to be “held by the occupiers.”

The number and identities of the hostages was still unclear, but Ireland announced that a 36-year-old married Irish man was among them, while Japan and Britain said their citizens were involved as well. A Norwegian woman said her husband called her saying he had been taken hostage.

In addition to the two foreigners killed — one of them a Briton — six others were wounded in the attack, including two foreigners, two police officers and two security agents, Algeria’s state news agency reported.

The attackers reportedly tried ambushing a bus carrying plant employees, but they were repelled, so they moved on to the living quarters.  CBS News assessed the situation in northern Algeria:

Attacks on oil-rich Algeria’s hydrocarbon facilities are very rare, despite decades of fighting an Islamist insurgency, mostly in the north of the country.

In the last several years, however, al-Qaida’s influence in the poorly patrolled desert wastes of southern Algeria and northern Mali and Niger has grown and it operates smuggling and kidnapping networks throughout the area. Militant groups that seized control of northern Mali already hold seven French hostages as well as four Algerian diplomats.

The natural gas field where the attack occurred, however, is more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the Mali border, though it is just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Libya’s deserts.

That shouldn’t be a problem, since Libya is “fixed,” and nothing bad ever happens there.  Meanwhile, the French are preparing for their first big engagement with Islamist forces in Mali.  The Washington Post noted on Wednesday that this action is far more popular with the French public than intervention in Libya was, and it’s even more popular than Socialist President Francois Hollande’s gay marriage proposal.  “The difference seems to be that the Mali mission has been sold to the public as both a humanitarian mission and a strategically necessary one,” speculates the Post, citing the “terrifying brutality of the Islamists who have imposed Sharia Law in Mali’s northern region.”