Algeria Hostage Standoff Ends With Bloody Raid

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 19 2013 2:17 PM

Algeria Hostage Standoff Ends With 11 Gunmen and 7 Hostages Killed

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Algerian policemen stop cars at a checkpoint in In Amenas, deep in the Sahara near the site of the natural gas complex that came under attack

Photo by FAROUK BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images

The hostage crisis in the Algerian natural gas complex appears to be over. Details remain sketchy but one thing is clear: The end was violent and tragic. Algerian special forces stormed the desert complex on Saturday, killing 11 militants after they apparently executed seven foreign hostages. That means the death toll since the plant was attacked Wednesday now stands at 19 hostages and 29 militants, reports the Associated Press. But dozens of foreigners are still missing so the death toll could rise. Algeria’s state oil and gas company, which ran the plant along with BP and Norway’s Statoil, said militants had filled the complex with explosives, suggesting they were planning to blow up one of the largest such plants in Algeria.

The radical Islamists with ties to al-Qaida took hundreds of workers hostage on Wednesday, but seemed to mostly care about the foreign workers. Algeria launched the raid Saturday even though an earlier bloody rescue operation Thursday was criticized by several countries. Now there are suggestions the foreigners “were killed in retaliation,”as one “security official” tells the AFP. But French President Francois Hollande said the response seemed to be the best option given available information. Still, the evident lack of any type of negotiation is typical of Algeria’s strategy to deal with militants that is part of the legacy of a civil war against Islamists.

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But a government official acknowledges to the New York Times that this attack was much more sophisticated than what the country has seen in the past. “This was a multinational operation,” he said. “These are not Algerians. They’ve come from all over, Tunisia, Egypt, Mauritania. It’s the first time we’ve handled something on this scale. This one is different, it’s of another dimension.” Although the militants insisted the attack was a response to the French operations in Mali, officials have suggested the raid was likely too elaborate to be organized in the week since France launched air strikes, points out Reuters.

So far, one American, Frederick Buttaccio of Texas has been confirmed dead. At least two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were also among the dead. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the government is still trying to figure out how many Americans were at the plant. And while Panetta pointedly refused to criticize Algeria, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond did express some frustration that the country had refused outside help. “We find that they don’t always do things the way we would do them,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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