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Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Who’s Who? Who is Behind the Terrorists?
Who is behind the terrorist group which attacked the BP -Statoil-Sonatrach In Amenas Gas Field Complex located on the Libyan border in South Eastern Algeria? (see map below)
The operation was coordinated by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of the Al Qaeda affiliated Islamist al-Mulathameen (Masked) Brigade, or “Those who Sign with Blood.”
Belmokhtar’s organization has been involved in the drug trade, smuggling as well kidnapping operations of foreigners in North Africa. While his whereabouts are known, French intelligence has dubbed Belmokhtar “the uncatchable”.
Belmokhtar took responsibility on behalf of Al Qaeda for the kidnapping of 41 Western hostages including 7 Americans at the BP In Amenas Gas Field Complex.
Belmokhtar, however, was not directly involved in the actual attack. The field commander of the operation was Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, a veteran jihadist fighter from Niger, who joined Algeria’s Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in 2005. (Albawaba, January 17, 2013)
The In Amenas kidnapping operation was carried out five days after the conduct of air strikes by France directed against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants in northern Mali.
French special forces and Malian troops regained control of Diabaly and Konna, two small towns North of Mopti. The town of Diabaly had apparently been taken over a few days earlier by fighters led by one of the leading AQIM commanders Abdelhamid Abou Zeid.
While the terrorist attack and kidnapping directed against the In Amenas Gas plant was described as an act of revenge, it was not in any way improvised, Confirmed by analysts, the operation had in all likelihood been planned well in advance:
“European and U.S. officials say the raid was almost certainly too elaborate to have been planned in so short a time, although the French campaign could have been one trigger for fighters to launch an assault they had already prepared.”
According to recent reports (January 20, 2012) there are some 80 casualties, including hostages and jihadist fighters. There were several hundred workers at the gas plant, most of whom were Algerian. “Of those rescued, only 107 out of 792 workers were foreign”, according to the Algerian Ministry of Interior.
The British and French governments laid the blame on the jihadists. In the words of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron:
“Of course people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched this vicious and cowardly attack. (Reuters, January 20, 2013).
News reports confirm, however, that a large number of the deaths of both the hostages and the Islamic fighters was the result of the bombing raids led by Algerian forces.
Negotiations with the captors, which could have saved lives, had not been seriously contemplated by either the Algerian or Western governments. The militants had demanded an end to France’s attacks in northern Mali in return for the safety of the hostages. Al Qaeda leader Belmokhtar had stated:
“We are ready to negotiate with the West and the Algerian government provided they stop their bombing of Mali’s Muslims” (Reuters, January 20, 2013)
Within the ranks of the jihadists were mercenaries from a number of Muslim countries including Libya (yet to be confirmed) as well as fighters from Western countries.
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