In reaction to Algeria’s authorization for French warplanes to use its airspace for bombing raids against al-Qaida-linked extremists in Mali, a group called the Masked Brigade, linked to Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, attacked a BP gas facility in the town of In Amenas in Algeria’s southeast on Wednesday. They kidnapped 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, according to Reuters.
French news website L’Express reported that an exchange of fire between police and Islamist militants resulted in the deaths of one Algerian police officer and two British security guards.
The spokesman for the Masked Brigade told the Mauritanian News Agency, as well as Sahara Media, that “41 Westerners, including seven Americans, French, British and Japanese citizens have been taken hostage,” adding that “the operation was in response to the blatant interference by Algeria and the opening of its air space to French aircraft to bomb northern Mali.”
The spokesman said that five of the hostages were being held at the gas plant, while the others were in a housing complex on the site. He did not give any names of the kidnapped, but he called for ending the French operation in Mali immediately, to ensure the hostages’ safety.
At the same time, the governments of America, Britain, Norway and Japan confirmed the kidnapping of their citizens. French President Francois Hollande also confirmed that he is in constant contact with the Algerian government over this attack.
According to a source cited by Algerian newspaper Al Watan, Algerian security forces have launched an operation to rescue the hostages and have also surrounded the gas field workers’ camp near the scene of violence.
It is worth mentioning that the hostages are under the control of Khaled Abuabas. His jihadi nickname is Mokhtar Belmokhtar; he is Algerian and has been sentenced to life imprisonment by Algerian authorities. He is also a leader of the Masked Brigade group. Abuabas was a former commander in al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), according to Western media.