The Algerian hostage situation became a horrific bloodbath after government troops stormed the natural gas plant that had been seized by Islamist “militants” suspected of ties to an al-Qaeda franchise. As the Wall Street Journal reports, they’re still working on tabulating the casualties:
The Algerian government said Sunday it expects casualties to rise beyond the 23 hostages and 32 militants it has said were killed. Algerian authorities haven’t disclosed nationalities of the 23 hostage victims, and the challenge of identifying victims was sure to be difficult, with reports over the weekend of deaths in fiery explosions and charred remains at the scene.
The Algerian statement came as the discrepancy between the number of hostages confirmed dead by their governments and those still unaccounted for became clearer. “I strongly fear that the death toll will be revised upward,” said Algerian Communication Minister Mohamed Said on state radio Chaîne 3.
The Algerian government says it had to take action because the terrorists were going to blow up the facility and execute the hostages, many of whom were strapped to explosives. Others were taken as human shields by terrorists who were either fleeing or re-locating within the facility (depending on whose account you believe) when they came under fire from Algerian helicopters. It has been noted that our counter-terrorism strategy in North Africa relies heavily on cooperation from weak and/or uncooperative states. The Algerians are said to fall into the latter category.
People from at least a dozen countries were murdered. Some of their governments appear to be stifling criticism of the Algerian government while the fate of so many hostages remains unknown, and common cause is sought against the vast al-Qaeda network, which doesn’t seem as “decimated” or “on the run” as we were led to believe.
It looks like they’re non-decimated enough to be recruiting from outside the Middle East and Africa:
There also were intriguing clues on Sunday that at least one of the hostage takers was Western. One 35-year-old Algerian employee who escaped the scene said he heard the terrorists speaking different Arabic dialects and one who didn’t speak Arabic well, but had far better command of English. “He had white skin and a blonde beard,” recalled the Algerian employee, who escaped a few hours after the attack began. Mauritania-based news agency ANI has quoted the terrorists as saying they are of various African and Western nationalities, including Canada along with Libya, Mauritania and Mali.
The New York Times offers a look at the gestation of this international terror threat:
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb started out as an Algerian group that was fighting the Algerian government. Pushed out of Algeria, it found a sanctuary in northern Mali as did militants who left Libya following the fall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
The initial French and American strategy was to keep a low profile in the region, while training African troops who would be sent to Mali to contend with the Qaeda-affiliated militants.
There were growing signs that North Africa was becoming more dangerous. A Western security expert who was asked to assess the threat to Algeria???s oil complex last year had reported an ???elevated??? risk due to the militants in Mali.
Still, the American and French plan assumed that the threat posed by the militants in Mali would be slow to build and that the West had time to organize an African military response ??? the plan had been to deploy it in September this year.
But the militants??? offensive in Mali and the attack in Algeria has demonstrated that the groups have a broader reach than anticipated and are prepared to take the offensive.
Militants pouring out of Libya to rally in Mali? North Africa becoming the sort of place where it’s not a good idea to send unprotected ambassadors to visit rural consulates? It’s amazing how much of this situation our super-genius foreign policy establishment has gotten utterly wrong. Libya was sold to us as a triumph; instead, it’s a cluster of terrorist hornet nests surrounding a hapless central government. Al-Qaeda morale was greatly boosted by all that “spontaneous video protest” garbage. Every “militant” loves the idea of fighting civilized enemies who refuse to look directly at them.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), in a statement relayed by Government Security News, put it bluntly:
McCaul contended that the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens vitalized Islamist groups elsewhere in the region. ???Al Qaeda’s North African franchises have become emboldened by our timid response to Benghazi, have gained significant wealth by ratcheting up kidnappings for ransom, they use this wealth to fund operations against the West and have reach inside the United States,??? he said.
“Al Qaeda in North Africa is a security threat we cannot afford to underestimate. The mission of these Islamist extremists to kill Americans and disrupt our way of life has not changed, and our efforts to defend the homeland must reflect this reality,??? said MCaul.
They’ve also got to reflect the reality of a military budget slashed to pay for out-of-control domestic spending, and an intelligence apparatus that has either gone blind, or is reporting to an Administration that has gone deaf.
Update: By Monday afternoon, the hostage death toll was up to 38, including three Americans. According to Fox News, five foreign workers remain unaccounted for. Word has it that two Canadians were part of the terrorist attack force.