On Wednesday, a militant group calling themselves the Battalion of Blood raided the Tigantourine gas field near the village of Amenas in Algeria. Initially, more than 600 hostages were taken in the raid, including American, British, Japanese, Malaysian, French, and Irish nationals, but most have been released, and it’s now believed that less than sixty hostages are still remaining.
In response to the attack, the Algerian military launched a direct ground assault on the facility unbeknownst to the leaders of the countries with citizens who had been taken hostage.
This is where the details start getting murky, as reactions to the news of the assault have left international leaders in the cold and struggling to find out as much intelligence on the situation as anyone else.
While hundreds of hostages have since been released, we know that some of the hostages were killed. But at this time, it’s difficult to know who they are and exactly how many there are. Conflicting reports on the ongoing Algerian military ground assault have also stated that anywhere between 25 to 45 hostages have been released, and that just as many may be dead or still taken hostage.
Neither Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nor Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are saying much about the situation. Panetta has called this a terrorist attack, and it’s one of the largest terrorist abduction plots in decades. He also confirmed that Americans were among the hostages taken in the raid. Some reports are arguing that hostages are being released in exchange for safe passage of the militants.
What are they after and why did they do it? According to statements released by the Battalion, the assault on the gas field was in direct response to recent French military action in neighboring Mali.. On January 11, French President Francois Hollande approved air strikes in the country against militants who he argued were getting dangerously close to the Mali capital of Bamako. The French have also moved ahead with ongoing ground operations.
While this may be true, experts doubt this is the full story. The Battalion of Blood has close connections with Al-Qaeda, and it’s believed that the militant leader, Mokhtar Belmohktar, may be an Al-Qaeda member himself. According to accounts by some of the released Muslim hostages, the militants told them they were only after “Christians and infidels,” and they were only interested in killing Westerners. They also noted the efficiency and celerity by which the militants were able to take control of the giant facility.
Experts argue that the most likely scenario is that the Battalion of Blood had mapped out and plotted this raid long before Wednesday; however, the French air strikes in Mali led them to push up their plans and may have instigated the assault early. As of this writing, the official Algeria Press Service has reported that the Algerian military operation on the facility has ended. We still don’t know what the number of killed and wounded are nor how the assault was resolved.
We also know that while the military raid has ended, the operation there is not over. Concerns by foreign governments over additional hostage casualties may have prompted the Algerian government to end its operation. In the meantime, Americans must wait for more up to date information about the fate of the 10 American hostages and what kind of political implications Algeria’s decision to go it alone will have.