Algeria Defends Military Rescue of Hostages Amid Western Criticism
As Algeria defended its decision to attempt a military rescue of dozens of foreign hostages held by al-Qaeda-linked group, Western countries voiced concern especially after some hostages were killed during the Algerian army operation.
Algeria’s communications minister, Mohamed Said, said special forces had been forced to act quickly in order to save lives, days after militants attacked an Algerian gas plant on Wednesday, kidnapping dozens of workers, including foreigners.
“If we didn’t move, they could kill the hostages, because they were determined,” said Said.
“Their orders were not to retreat. This is why we had to move swiftly. As far as we can see now I consider that we avoided a real catastrophe, a real massacre.”
“These foreigners are guests of Algeria. This is why in the end when the Army’s command became certain it was the time, we had to act rapidly.”
Around 100 foreign hostages were reported to have been freed in the operation, but between 12 and 30 have been killed.
It is believed that 32 foreigners are still unaccounted for, with up to 10 Britons believed to be among them along with citizens from the United States, Norway and Japan.
Questions have been raised about whether the Algerian army was right to launch an attack against the terrorist group who had taken control of the gas plant without informing other countries first or attempting to negotiate.
There are fears there could be more casualties on Saturday as Algerian special forces have surrounded the remaining militants at a refinery at the gas plant and may launch another assault.
Western countries slammed the Algerian operation; with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the situation in Algeria was “dangerous.”
This is an extremely difficult and dangerous situation,” Clinton said at a joint Washington news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida as one American hostage was confirmed dead.
“The United States extends our condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones in this brutal assault and we remain deeply concerned about those who remain in danger. Utmost care must be taken to preserve innocent life.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland identified the dead American as Frederick Buttaccio amid reports that a total of five Americans were initially taken hostage on Wednesday.
William Hague, Foreign Secretary, said the Algerian crisis will remain the “top priority” for ministers until every British national is accounted for.
KIDNAPPERS OFFER SWAP DEAL
The Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen group known as “Signatories in Blood” wants an end to French intervention in neighboring Mali, Mauritania’s ANI news agency quoted sources close to their leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, as saying.
ANI said Belmokhtar, a veteran Algerian extremist with Al-Qaeda ties who has claimed responsibility for the attack, proposed exchanging the remaining two US hostages for the Egyptian blind sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui, jailed in the United States on charges of terrorist links.
“The United States does not negotiate with terrorists,” Nuland said when asked about the proposal.
The Algerian national news agency APS quoted a government official as saying the kidnappers, who claimed to have come from Niger, were armed with machineguns, assault rifles, rocket launchers and missiles.