By William Tucker
For all the reporting of the Islamist takeover of the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria, we know very little details of the events that took place. Despite many rumors in the media, however, there are some hard facts that are valuable. The situation began when the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb offshoot Signed-in-Blood Battalion, led by infamous militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, seized the gas facility this Wednesday. Despite the group’s claims of launching the attack in response to French military intervention in Mali, the attack was likely planned for some time. The facility is quite large and had a staff of over 600 when the attack commence. Because the facility is rather remote, the militants would’ve needed to conduct extensive surveillance, and have had a plan for either rapid egress or logistical routes depending on the ensuing situation. The initial demands from the militants were conflicting, but this was likely more related to planning for different responses from the Algerian government. Early attempts by the militants to move some hostages, while others stayed behind at the facility tend to support this.
The hostage situation and the potential for catastrophe put the Algerian government in a tough position. With so many hostages, or potential hostages, the Algerian’s may have felt that they couldn’t wait for the militants to consolidate their holdings at the gas facility. It should also be considered that Algeria has been battling Islamist militants for decades and that experience, especially with a large international dimension, may have influenced Algiers to move as quickly as they did. This doesn’t absolve Algeria of the handling of the situation, especially with the potential for a high casualty rate among the hostages, but it should add some clarity to a seemingly impossible situation. Truth be told, there has been extensive cooperation between several West Africa nations, the U.S., and France in the Sahara and the Sahel, but it’s readily apparent that more must be done in the political and security realms.
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