Tag Archives: Hostages

The Algerian Response, Motives & Consequences

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible.

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The Algerian National Press Agency had released a preliminary assessment on January 19th stating that 23 had been killed, 32 terrorists neutralized. Nearly 800 hostages were freed including 107 foreigners. However, The Algerian Minster of Communication Mohamed Said, said on 20/01/2013 that these were provisional figures, and the numbers of those killed is likely to be higher (press conference by Prime Minister Sella: 37 foreigners dead).

The assault came as a surprise to most outsiders, including Washington, London and Paris. All claim not to have been consulted by the Algerian prior to the assault. Yet following the release of information about the scale and overall results of the operation, all have expressed greater support for counter-terrorism efforts in the region.

Many observers have deemed the Algerian response heavy-handed  or brutal. The Minister of Communications summed up Algeria’s policy with respect to negotiations quite clearly when he stated: “No negotiation, no blackmail and no respite against terrorism”. However, an overview of Algeria’s historical legacy, the current regional dynamics and factors specific to the crisis at In Amenas provide a better understanding of Algeria’s hard-line policy and actions.

The Algerian Army launched the assault on the gas installation south  east of the capital Algiers after a group of Jihadists calling themselves the ‘Signers in Blood’; took over the installation and captured over 600 hostages including a large number of foreigners. The operation lasted over three days and details are starting to slowly emerge.

Historically, Algeria’s ‘dark decade‘ continues to shape the country’s counter-terrorism policy. Throughout the 1990s, the country’s armed forces fought Islamist militants in a bloody war with casualties including a large number of civilians. During the crisis, the ruling military establishment – Algeria’s core centre of power – was divided into two camps: those in favour of dialogue and the ‘eradicators’. Despite a return to civil rule, it is the latter that continue to hold key posts in the country’s security apparatus.

After more than a decade of fighting, and a brokered political solution, the country managed to push what it labels ‘residual terrorism’ south of major population centres and into the Sahel region. It is around this time that the rules of the game changed for both the armed Islamist – now franchised Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – and for the government. In 2003 European tourists were taken hostage and released upon an alleged ransom payment. The same group went on to perpetrate the country’s first suicide attack in 2007. Thus, Algerian authorities see any negotiation or interjection from outside countries as not only a breach of sovereignty, but also a direct security risk stemming from better armed groups.

The assault should also be seen in the larger context of instability in the region and the implications of this for the Algerian ruling regime. Firstly, civil war in Libya brought instability and heightened the threat of Islamist armed militants on the country’s eastern flank, where Algeria’s oil and gas operations are most concentrated. Furthermore, instability in Northern Mali became an additional source of insecurity. The vast porous borders – imaginary lines in the sand – and the inherent weakness of bordering states in the region create an ideal operating environment for armed groups. This helps both explain Algeria’s push for a political solution in Mali as well as its harsh response at home.

The attack on the gas installation itself constitutes a first in the country’s history. These were largely untouched during the instability of the 1990s. The country’s economy is largely based on its oil and gas exports, which account for over 90% of all exports. The In Amenas installation itself accounts for 10% of Algeria’s gas production and nearly 20% of its exports, all in an economy dominated by the public sector. Thus the oil and gas exports are not only the backbone of the economy, but the pillar of political and social stability for the country. The militant attacked a core interest or as Dr. Geoff Porter put it: ‘the golden goose that keeps the regime’In this light, the Algerian overwhelming response should be regarded as clear message to both militants and outside powers.

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible. Early reports indicate the use of embedded operatives by the militants to gain strategic intelligence inside the plant and the whereabouts of foreign employees. One Algerian employee reported that the militant knew their way around and had even known about a planned strike.

How this will affect Algeria’s stance on the Mali conflict? Past behaviour and the current policy points towards a more ‘hunker-down bunker-up’ Algerian response. The Algerian government is maintaining its usual silence, but greater involvement cannot be ruled out. Reports show the Algerian Air force has been put on standby, and additional troops have been dispatched towards the Malian border.

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Photo credit: Magharebia

The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.

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What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.

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Photo credit: US Army Africa

Tottenham Court Road Bomb Threats: The Trouble With Lone Wolves

A man is arrested after, it is believed, having threatened to detonate gasoline cylinders in an office building on Tottenham Court Road. Was this a lone wolf terrorist?

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]oday an unknown man held siege in an office block on Tottenham Court Road in Soho, London. It was confirmed at approximately 15.08 that he has been arrested and is in police custody whilst the offices are being secured.

Apparently alone and armed with devices of an indeterminate nature, he walked into the offices of Advantage HGV, a Transport Logistics firm and declared that he ‘doesn’t care about his life. Doesn’t care about anything [and] is going to blow up everybody’. The man identified himself to a member of staff as Michael Green, a former client of the firm, who had apparently failed a HGV course through the company. Eye witnesses who managed to escape the scene described what could have been gas canisters strapped to the man’s body. Upon entering the office he allegedly coerced office workers to throw computer equipment and office supplies out of the windows.

The talk on popular social media website Twitter, as well as other forums, is that this must be terrorism, the man is undoubtedly a Lone Wolf. Whilst his name still hasn’t been confirmed, his motivations have already been concluded without any due thought to his state of mind, exactly what he planned to do in the offices of transport logistics company, and more importantly, why them? This is ostensibly a clear cut case, a disenfranchised client seeks revenge on the company he blames for his failures. But the media, and as a consequence, the public, see terrorists around every corner.

A Lone Wolf is an individual who is ‘located within a broader network of extremists’ but [displays] some level of contact with operational extremists.’ [Pantucci, ICSR 2011, p9] Lone Wolves can, in some cases, operate under varying degrees of command and control. Additionally, ‘real’ Lone Wolves ‘are part of a virtual network’. [Sageman cited in Ibid. p5] There are different distinctions between different types of individual terrorist actors, some (loners) become operational through a ‘passive [ideological] consumption’ whilst Lone Wolves are more likely to participate in online forums ie. non-physical interaction with like-minded people.

We know nothing about this man at this stage. What we potentially know is that he may be called Michael Green, may have failed a driving test, and may be depressed, or perhaps mentally ill. None of these snippets of spurious information can help us determine exactly what happened in Central London today. There is as of this moment no clear political motivation that could connect this to terrorism. ‘He was throwing stuff out of the windows – it looked like someone with a grievance’. Whilst grievances can lead to violence, terrorists motivated by a particular ideology that they believe will repair this grievance seldom allow potential victims to leave because they are parents or because they are pregnant.

If we are to understand Lone Wolves and other types of terrorist actors, and more importantly, if we want a clear picture of what happened on Tottenham Court Road – British journalism should leave the terrorism investigation to the Metropolitan Police and try to view the events of today as they are – a serious security incident which thankfully avoided injuries and fatalities.