January 17, 2013
ALGIERS, Algeria — In what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali, Islamist militants attacked and occupied a natural gas complex partly operated by energy company BP in southern Algeria on Wednesday. Two foreigners were killed and possibly dozens of others, including Americans, were taken hostage.
A militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for Algeria's support of France's operation against al-Qaida-linked Malian rebels groups far to the southeast. It said it was holding 41 foreigners, including seven Americans.
Algerian forces have surrounded the complex and the state news agency reported a bit more than 20 people we're being held, including Americans, Britons, Norwegians, French and Japanese, citing the local authorities.
Algeria will not respond to terrorist demands and rejects all negotiations, announced Algeria's top security official, Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia on television.
In a statement, BP said the site was attacked and occupied by a group of unidentified armed people, and some of its personnel are believed to be held by the occupiers.
The number and identities of the hostages were still unclear, but Ireland announced that a 36-year-old married Irish man was among them, while Japan and Britain said their citizens were involved as well. A Norwegian woman said her husband called her saying he had been taken hostage.
In addition to those killed – one of them a Briton – six were wounded in the attack, including two foreigners, two police officers and two security agents, the state news agency reported.
Hundreds of Algerians work at the plant and were taken in the attack, but the state news agency reported that they have gradually been released in small groups, unharmed by the late afternoon.
A group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, called a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation on the Ain Amenas gas field, taking 41 hostages from nine or 10 different nationalities, including the seven Americans.
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — French troops pressed north in Mali toward territory occupied by radical Islamists on Wednesday, launching a land assault which will put soldiers in direct combat in 1 to 72 hours, military officials said.
French ground operations began overnight, France's military chief of staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud, said on Europe 1 television Wednesday. He stressed that French infantry units will be fighting directly in coming hours, but I am unable to say whether it is in one hour or in 72 hours. ... Of course, we will be fighting directly.
Armored vehicles loaded with French troops were seen heading toward Niono. The natural target for the French infantry is Diabaly, located 250 miles northeast of the capital and roughly 45 miles north of Niono.