The hostage crisis in at a gas field in Algeria ended this morning with a raid by Algerian forces, killing the last of the Islamic militants who stormed the facility on Jan. 16. Algerian officials estimate the total death toll in the stand-off to be 32 militants and 23 hostages. The militants had said their action was a retaliation for the recent French intervention against Islamist rebels who staged a coup in northern Mali last year.
Below is a timeline of the crisis. But first, a background reading list to understand its roots.
- Bruce Whitehouse, a Mali-based anthropologist, delves into the conflicting domestic and geopolitical interests at stake in Mali in a recent blog post , and in more depth in an article from last August .
- The Guardian’s resident terrorism expert, Jason Burke, analyzes the real motives and factional rivalries of the kidnappers in Algeria. Jonathan Masters at the Council on Foreign Relations examines the origins of the group they were reputedly allied to, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) . The Huffington Post’s Hunter Stuart rounds up useful reading about Mokhtar Belmokhtar , who wasn’t among the kidnappers but is thought to have been the operation’s mastermind.
- McClatchy’s Matthew Schofield asks if Mali is going to be France’s Afghanistan , while David Rohde, who reported from Afghanistan and spent several months as an unwilling guest of the Taliban, argues that it won’t be .
Wednesday, January 16
At about 2 a.m. local time, a group of heavily-armed gunmen storm an energy site about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Ain Amenas, Algeria, and take some 800 workers hostage. The site is a wet gas field, operated through a joint venture between Sonatrach, BP and Statoil. First reports suggest there are five hostages from Japan, one from Ireland, and an unknown number of British, Norwegian and French hostages.
The British Huffington Post reports that Sahara Media Agency was contacted by al-Qaeda militant group Katibat Moulathamine (“The Masked Ones”), claiming the attack was carried out by its affiliates, identified as “Those who sign their names in blood”, with led by jihadist Mokhtar Belmokthar. A spokesman of the group tells the agency the action was carried out in retaliation for France’s raids on northern Mali. The agency is also told that 41 Westerners of nine or ten nationalities were taken hostage as well as dozens of other non-Algerians. APS, Algeria’s official news agency, says one British and one French national are dead.
Thursday, January 17
Algerian helicopters and ground troops attack the militants in a rescue effort. Conflicting media reports say anything between a dozen and 30 hostages are killed, and 11 to 18 militants. Some 600 hostages are freed, however, including half the foreign workers.
Friday, January 18
Statoil reports 11 of its employees have been brought to safety, but six are still missing.
Saturday, January 19
Algeria forces launch a final assault. Just beforehand, the captors kill seven of the remaining hostages, but 16 are freed. The remaining 11 kidnappers are killed in the raid. Sonatrach, the state-run gas and oil company said in a statement that troops have discovered that the plant had been mined.
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