Algeria’s Botched Rescue Leaves Dozens of Hostages Dead, Angers West

Reuters reports that the Algerian government’s intervention against the hostage crisis at a BP natural gas plant in southern Algeria has left 30 of the hostages dead. British Prime Minister David Cameron seemed visibly upset with the hamfisted Algerian operation, and British foreign ministry officials complained about not having been warned the operation was coming.

The relatively secular-minded Algerian elite brutally crushed Muslim fundamentalist movements of the 1990s, leaving tens of thousands of people dead in a dirty war. This heavy-handed military raid, which inadvertently got over two dozen of the hostages killed, has to be pronounced a failure.

In the no-man’s land of southern Algeria, for a very long time tribes, criminals, smugglers and desert fundamentalists have had free rein. Since the BP gas plant produces 10% of Algeria’s annual export income, you would think Algiers would bother to provide it with some security.

Aljazeera English reports:

Although the hostage-takers said that their action was in revenge for the French intervention in Mali, the operation had to have been plotted out for much more than a week, and they were just invoking a political cover. In fact, they are a kidnapping operation that makes a lot of money from collecting ransoms on European tourists in southern Algeria.

Meanwhile, Agence France Presse’s excellent profile of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of the group that took the hostages, shows that he was kicked out of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb last fall for his criminal tendencies. The French news agency concludes that he is just a gangster in search of profit, not a committed fundamentalist. Belmokhtar went off to Afghanistan in 1991, the last year of the fight against the Soviet-backed puppet government of Najib. He returned in 1992, when the Algerian civil war was beginning between the secular generals and the Islamic Salvation Front (French acronym FIS). FIS contested elections in 1991 and won parliament, but he alarmed generals closed parliament and sent the MPs home. The subsequent struggle became a brutal civil war that killed perhaps 150,000 Algerians. Belmokhtar joined the Armed Islamic Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate funded in part by Usama Bin Laden from the Sudan. But in recent years Belmokhtar, whatever his youthful commitments, has become little more than a thug.

7 Responses

  1. Mr Cole I don’t always agree with your perspective, but I do appreciate your thoughtful awareness and your keen eye for the significant. You have become an important part of my information system; it’s obvious you are well traveled and well read – thank you.

  2. Seems like Algerians really wanted to get the militants and did not care who got killed. Somehow I think this will not be the end of the story.

  3. I agree with you, Dr. Cole, 90% of the time. But in this instance there were some 650 people at the plant and frankly the casualties are rather low. If the hostages had not included westerner, I don’t think there would be talk of botched mission by the Algerian government. Also, the approach of Algeria to the crisis, might deter “Terrorist” from replicating the situation, as hostage taking did not protect from attack by the government. Lastly Western workers in those plant are extremely well compensated, because of the risk factor involved. So I think that overall and considering the circumstances we should not criticize Algeria for it’s quick response.

  4. It took me a second reading, and with some focus, to get a reasonable handle on this post. Not that it was badly presented, but rather that it did not fit into the handy template of Another Terrorism Outbreak.

    The usual talking heads have been pontificating about the Usual Suspects, rather than going to the trouble of taking the a fresh look and making a more nuanced appraisal. It isn’t as though AQ or other events aren’t having an impact, but these things are often far more subtle than people seem to have the patience to appreciate. Until its too late.

    The French are no more exceptional than anyone else when it comes to the wisdom of their actions and policies. But I do get the sense they have more respect for the need for doing ones homework and that they have a clearer idea of what they’re dealing with. Not quite the same thing as humility, but they do seem to be operating on more than a comic-book understanding.

  5. 80% of Frances electricity is generated by nuclear power. The french company Areva that provides the Uranium for the Nuclear Power plants get half of it from the region.

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