The French intervention into Mali spilled over to other countries, as Islamic radicals in Algeria attacked a natural gas facility and seized at least 20 hostages, including 7 Americans, as well as French, British, and Japanese nationals. From Reuters:
Islamist fighters seized dozens of Western and Algerian hostages in a dawn raid on a natural gas facility deep in the Sahara on Wednesday and demanded France halt a new offensive against rebels in neighboring Mali.
Three people, among them one British and one French, were reported killed, but details were sketchy and numbers of those held at Tigantourine ranged from 41 foreigners – including perhaps seven Americans as well as Japanese and Europeans – to over 100 local staff, held separately and less closely watched.
What is clear is that with a dramatic counterpunch to this week’s French build-up in Mali, the region’s loosely allied, al Qaeda-inspired radicals have set Paris a daunting dilemma and spread fallout from Mali’s hitherto obscure civil war far beyond northwest Africa, challenging Washington as well as Europeans and shutting down a major gas field that pumps energy to Europe.
The attack, which Algeria said was led by a veteran, Afghan-trained holy warrior-cum-smuggler dubbed “The Uncatchable” by French intelligence, came just as French ground troops in Mali launched their first assault after six days of air strikes.
The United States, which like European powers endorsed France’s decision to intervene last week against Islamists who have seized vast tracts of northern Mali, confirmed Americans were among the hostages and said it would work to “secure” them.
Western and African governments have been alarmed by a flow of weapons and fighters across the unmarked Sahara borders following the end of Libya’s civil war in 2011 and fear that Mali, where Islamists drive the national army from the north nine months ago, could become an Afghan-style al Qaeda haven.
The militants, who said they had dozens of fighters in the gas field, issued no explicit threat but made clear to media in neighboring Mauritania the hostages’ lives were at risk.
“We hold the Algerian government and the French government and the countries of the hostages fully responsible if our demands are not met and it is up to them to stop the brutal aggression against our people in Mali,” read one statement from the group, which called itself the “Battalion of Blood”.
In other comments carried by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, the group said its fighters had rigged explosives around the site and any attempt to free the hostages would lead to a “tragic end”. The unusually large numbers of gunmen and hostages involved pose serious problems for any rescue operation.
After dark, ANI quoted a militant source saying fighters had repelled a raid by Algerian troops. He added that the hostage-takers’ weaponry included mortars and anti-aircraft missiles.
For an update to this article, including the apparent number of foreign hostages being held (the earlier number probably included nationals who were not detained, though the terrorists are claiming a larger number), see this. That update gives the terrorist demands: The French must leave Mali.
UPDATE: Some of the hostages have reportedly escaped.
Mali, by the way, is the country with the storied city of Timbuktu.
Let’s say we no longer want to invade any other countries, as we did with Afghanistan and Iraq, to fight Islamic radicalism. A task now France–France!–has taken up. What do we do now? Tell Americans and American companies that they shouldn’t leave the USA since they will risk being targets of terrorists and their government won’t do anything to protect them?
Should we send in the SEALS? The drones? Military support for France?