Special Forces Storm Complex in Algeria

By Schemm, Paul; Kebir, Karim | Winnipeg Free Press, January 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

Special Forces Storm Complex in Algeria


Schemm, Paul, Kebir, Karim, Winnipeg Free Press


Dozens of hostages, militants killed

ALGIERS, Algeria -- In a bloody finale, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end a standoff with Islamist extremists that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved, the Algerian government said.

With few details emerging from the remote site in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed on Saturday -- seven -- was how many the militants had said that morning they still had. The government described the toll as provisional and some foreigners remained unaccounted for.

The siege at Ain Amenas transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world, then held them hostage surrounded by the Algerian military and its attack helicopters for four tense days that were punctuated with gunbattles and dramatic tales of escape.

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a statement condemning "the deplorable and cowardly attacks by terrorists in Ain Amenas, Algeria."

Baird said it's believed there were no Canadians or dual nationals among the hostages, and one permanent resident of Canada who was reported to be onsite has left Algeria and is safe.

There were reports Friday a news agency in Mauritania -- Agence Nouakchott d'Information -- quoted an unnamed source with the militant group who said the hostage-takers included people from Mali, Egypt, Niger, Mauritania and Canada.

Ottawa said it is "pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information" and is in close contact with Algerian authorities.

Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favouring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation -- first on Thursday, then on Saturday.

"To avoid a bloody turn of events in response to the extreme danger of the situation, the army's special forces launched an intervention with efficiency and professionalism to neutralize the terrorist groups that were first trying to flee with the hostages and then blow up the gas facilities," Algeria's Interior Ministry said in a statement about the standoff. …

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