The Algerian military’s sudden raid to free dozens of international hostages caught world capitals off guard and sparked anger and frustration over the lack of coordination and information.
From London to Washington and Oslo to Tokyo officials complained they had no details of the outcome of the raid on an Algerian gas complex on Thursday morning which may have claimed dozens of lives. The final death toll from the rescue attempt was uncertain by late Thursday, although there were reports that the action had ended.
Since the hostages were first seized on Wednesday, British offers of assistance were declined, and Prime Minister David Cameron was only told the operation was under way when he telephoned the Algerian Prime Minister shortly before noon on Thursday.
“It’s a fluid situation, it’s ongoing, it’s very uncertain. We should be prepared for the possibility of further bad news, very difficult news, in this extremely difficult situation,” Mr. Cameron said.
In Washington, officials sputtered over repeated demands by reporters for information about the American hostages who are believed to be among the dozens of Japanese, French, British, Irish and Norwegian hostages seized Wednesday morning by terrorists in Algeria.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the situation “ongoing” and “fluid” several times and expressed concern “about reports of loss of life.” “We are seeking clarity from the Algerian government about this matter,” Mr. Carney said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland declined to answer questions about whether the Algerians had informed the US prior to the helicopter-mounted operation. She said that the US had offered “to be helpful” in its talks with the Algerian government since the crisis began.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday called Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal to demand a halt to the assault on the hostage takers, Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported on Friday.
Mr. Abe told his Algerian counterpart that Japan “strongly urges Algeria to refrain from military operations,” the report quoted Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko as saying.
Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that the JGC engineering corporation knew of three Japanese employees who had been taken hostage and was uncertain about the whereabouts of another 10 workers.
The company, which has operated in Algeria for more than 40 years, was described as “disturbed” over the sparse information it had received. JGC said it would consider sending staff to Algeria to confirm the safety of workers on the ground.
“Overall, we are having difficulty gathering information,” a JGC spokesman said Thursday morning.
The Norwegian government said it had no information about the status of nine of its nationals.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Algerian authorities informed him at about 1100 GMT (4.30 p.m. IST) that the military operation was already underway.
“They had sought a solution overnight but felt they had no other option but to launch the operation,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, but declined to comment on the decision to launch the attack.
French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday afternoon the situation seemed “to be unfolding in dramatic conditions.” Earlier in the day, Algerian Information Minister Mohammed Said had only indicated there had been deaths during the rescue attempt, but did not mention the numbers.
But he made clear that the Algerian government would continue its tough stance against terrorists.
“No negotiation, no blackmail, no respite in the fight against terrorism,” Mr. Said said in a televised statement.