Tue, Jan 22, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Algeria to boost security as toll hits 85


Algeria will increase security at oil and gas installations after a terrorist attack and military response left as many as 85 people dead and exposed a growing threat from al-Qaeda in North Africa.

Authorities said at least 23 hostages died, along with 32 militants, after the final Algerian special forces assault on Saturday at the Saharan In Amenas facility, operated by BP, Norway’s Statoil ASA and Algeria’s state-run Sonotrach.

Security forces found about 30 more corpses on Sunday, reported to be Algerian and foreign hostages, although they could not immediately be identified, according to al-Watan newspaper.

Algerian Minister of Energy Youcef Yousfi said the nation had “the necessary means to secure its energy facilities,” the state-run Algeria Press Service reported. “We are going to strengthen security and we rely first on our means and resources.”

Foreign forces would not be used, he said.

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron said the attack underlined the threats posed by al-Qaeda-linked groups in North Africa following the “Arab Spring” uprisings. It came just four months after the US ambassador to Libya was killed by Islamist gunmen at the US consulate in Benghazi.

The gas plant raid was claimed by militants of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Mulathameen group, who said their action was inspired by the arrival last week of French forces seeking to block a jihadist takeover of neighboring Mali.

While Algerian authorities have yet to provide a full account of what took place and who died, some countries have confirmed casualty details.

The dead hostages included six Filipinos, three Britons, two Romanians, an American and a Frenchman. Five Norwegians, three UK citizens and a UK resident were missing, along with citizens of Japan, Colombia and Malaysia.

Cameron on Sunday compared the threat in terrorist North Africa to that in Afghanistan and said it would require “years, even decades” to counter.

Britain would use its chairmanship of the G8 to seek a joint response, he said.

Survivors gave accounts to newspapers of chaotic, terrifying scenes from inside the plant.

An Algerian engineer called Tahar told Le Soir d’Algerie newspaper of masked gunmen dressed in military uniform and of hostages forced to wear explosives around their necks.

Algerian Mohammed Amine Lahmar, a 31-year-old guard, was executed by gunmen when he refused to open a door in the gas plant, al Watan reported, while French catering worker Alexandre Berceaux was protected and fed by Algerian colleagues while he hid under a bed for 40 hours before being rescued by the army.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said governments must be “unrelenting” in their battle and acknowledged that the West should have been more concerned about the flow of arms across the region following the NATO’s role in the downfall of late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The ministry said 32 terrorists were involved — the same number it said were killed — and that only three were Algerian.

The attackers wore Libyan military uniforms, Algeria’s privately run Ennahar television said on its Web site, citing unidentified officials.

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