The Algerian government is yet to confirm the outcome of a controversial hostage rescue, a day after its security forces stormed a gas plant in In Amenas in south eastern Algeria to free several hundred hostages, dozens of internationals, who were captured by an al-Qaeda affiliate on January 16.
The state media have reported that 650 hostages have been freed, of which 573 are Algerians. “More than half” of 132 foreigners have also been freed, according to state media reports. At the time of going to the press, both AP and Reuters sources claimed that about 60 hostages were still captive.
The incident has had severe diplomatic repercussions after the governments of the U.K., U.S. and Japan revealed that the Algerian government did not consult them prior to launching the operation.
“We still do not have any information on the status or safety of our citizens, the Algerians claim that the security operation is still ongoing,” said a source. “Our journalists are not getting visas to enter the country. This will have severe repercussions for our relations with Algeria.”
A group called Al Mulathameen, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is believed to have held the hostages captive in a gas plant jointly operated by Norway’s Statoil, Britain’s BP and Algerian state-owned Sonatrach. According to Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, the raid was masterminded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran fighter involved in insurgencies in Afghanistan and Algeria.
The Algerian government has strictly monitored all information regarding the crisis, though the militants have indicated that the kidnap was a response to the recent French intervention in neighbouring Mali.
Since early 2012, the Malian government has lost nearly two-thirds of its territory to a multi-dimensional insurgency in the North. Last week, France rushed troops, helicopters, and jets to Mali and a West African force is on its way. While Algeria has declined to provide troops to an African mission for Mali, it has opened its airspace to French military aircraft.