U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, left, meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street in London, Jan. 18, 2013. Panetta is on a six-day trip to Europe to visit with defense counterparts and troops. (Photo: DOD)
UPDATE IX, Jan 21, 11:00 AM EST
The New York Times:
In his first official tally of the deadly scope of the Algerian hostage crisis, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said Monday that the known death toll among the foreign captives had risen steeply from 23 to 37 and that five additional foreigners remained unaccounted for.
Algerian officials had been forecasting that the tally of the foreign dead in the gas-field seizure would rise from a preliminary estimate of 23 — a trend reinforced by reports form Japan and the Philippines that hostages from those countries were among the dead.
In a televised news conference, the prime minister also said 29 militants were killed and three were captured alive during the four-day ordeal at the gas-field seizure, and that two Canadians had been among the attackers.
Read more here
UPDATE VIII, 20 Jan. 5:47 PM ET
At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant, as reports say that 25 bodies found at the complex on Sunday were all those of captives.
It had initially been unclear whether the bodies found were those of hostage-takers or staff at the facility.
A day earlier, Algerian officials reported the deaths of 23 hostages, saying many more were unaccounted for.
Five suspected Islamist attackers were reportedly arrested on Sunday.
UPDATE VII, Jan 20, 12:30 PM EST
Five suspected members of the Islamist group which held foreign and local workers hostage at an Algerian gas plant have been arrested, reports say.
The reports came a day after the Algerian authorities said all 32 hostage-takers had been killed at the In Amenas gas installation.
At least 23 staff at the facility died during the four-day siege, with some Western workers still unaccounted for.
The siege was ended in a raid by troops on Saturday.
The BBC providers this timeline of the four-day siege:
• 16 January: Militants attack two buses carrying In Amenas workers, killing two
• They then go on to the gas facility’s living quarters and main installation, seizing hostages
• Some gas workers manage to escape
• 17 January: Algerian forces attack after the militants try to move their hostages in five 4x4s – four of the vehicles are destroyed in an air strike and an unknown number of hostages killed
• 18 January: Stalemate as Algerian forces surround the gas plant where the remaining hostages are held
• 19 January: Algerian forces launch a final assault after reports that the hostage-takers were killing their captives
• 20 January: Algeria says death toll of 32 hostage-takers and at least 23 captives is likely to rise
UPDATE VI, Jan. 19, 6:30PM EST:
According to a DOD press release today, the president said that the nation’s thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured in the terrorist attack in Algeria, that the blame for the tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out and he condemned the terrorists’ actions “in the strongest possible terms.”
“We have been in constant contact with Algerian officials and stand ready to provide whatever assistance they need in the aftermath of this attack,” Obama said. “We also will continue to work closely with all of our partners to combat the scourge of terrorism in the region, which has claimed too many innocent lives.”
The attack is another reminder of the threat posed by al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups in North Africa, the president said.
“In the coming days, we will remain in close touch with the government of Algeria to gain a fuller understanding of what took place so that we can work together to prevent tragedies like this in the future,” he added.
During a news conference in London today, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta confirmed Americans were among those held hostage, but he said the possible number of U.S. deaths remains unclear. He pledged continued close consultation with Algerian authorities, and emphasized the attackers bear full and sole responsibility for all loss of life.
“Just as we cannot accept terrorist attacks against our cities, we cannot accept attacks against our citizens and our interests abroad,” he said. “Neither can we accept an al-Qaida safe haven anywhere in the world.”
Since 9/11, Panetta said, “We’ve made very clear that nobody is going to attack the United States of America and get away with it.” The nation and its allies and partners have fought terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and will take the fight to North Africa as well, he said.
UPDATE V: 4:00 PM EST
The Associated Press reports:
In a bloody finale, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end a standoff with Islamist extremists that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved, the Algerian government said
Read more here
The Washington Post reports:
Algerian forces launched a final assault on Saturday against Islamist militants holding foreign hostages at a desert energy complex, resulting in the deaths of 11 kidnappers and their 7 captives, according to Algerian and French news reports.
Reports of the raid –- which unfolded despite calls for restraint from foreign governments. including the United States, whose nationals were being held captive — remained sketchy and unverified, but state media said the operation was aimed at a remaining stronghold of militants at the sprawling, remote facility run by BP, Norway’s Statoil and Algeria’s state-run energy company. Reports from Algeria’s state news agency and France’s AFP, both quoting an unnamed Algerian security official, suggested the militants may have killed their hostages as forces approached.
Read more here
According to Politico:
U.S. officials confirmed Friday that one American has died in the hostage standoff at the Algerian natural gas field, The Associated Press reported, though reliable details about the terror attack there remained elusive.
The AP said the dead American was Frederick Buttaccio of Texas, that his remains had been “recovered” and his family notified, but “it is unclear how he died.” The report was one of the few solid confirmations of fact about the terrorist attack at the In Amenas field, which has been the subject of wildly different news accounts that have whipsawed from optimistic to dire.
Read more here
Remarks by Secretary Panetta at King’s College London on the Algerian situation, before proceeding with his prepared address:
Before I begin my prepared remarks, however, I want to say a few words about the ongoing critical situation in Algeria. I just received a briefing from my staff, and we are continuing to work very closely with the British government and with other nations in order to assess precisely what is happening on the ground.
Even as we continue to try and gather better information about what is happening, let me make a few points.
First, regardless of the motivation of the hostage-takers, there is no justification, no justification for the kidnapping and murder of innocent people, innocent people going about their daily lives.
Second, we are working around the clock to ensure the safe return of our citizens. And we will continue to be in close consultation with the Algerian government.
And, third, terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere. Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide.
It would seem that the foreign media — especially the British — are covering the Algerian terrorist attack in a more timely and in-depth manner than the US media.
Here are some breaking update headlines from the U.K.’s Daily Mail.
For the full details, please go here.
‘Battalion of Blood’ gang offers to SWAP two U.S. hostages seized in gas field siege for two terrorists jailed in America – including the World Trade Center bomber
• Kidnappers want US to free Omar Abdel Rahman and Aafia Siddiqui who are both in American prisons
• Algeria’s news service says nearly 100 of 132 foreign hostages have now been freed
• The fate of the other hostages is unclear
• An American from Texas is among those feared dead after a bloody raid by the Algerian military on Thursday
• Fierce gun battles erupted as troops moved in on the Islamists at a BP site in Algeria
• Source said 30 hostages were killed in the botched raid
• The Obama administration was not aware of the heavily armed rescue mission ahead of time
• Algerian officials said 18 militants have been killed but there were estimated to be 70 in total
• Captors were reportedly threatening this morning to attack other energy installations
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is in London on the final leg of a weeklong European tour which he has said is likely his last international trip as defense secretary before he retires. The secretary’s previous stops on this trip included Lisbon, Portugal, Madrid and Rome.
While in London, he addressed the situation in Algeria.
American Forces Press Service’s Karen Parrish:
U.S. and allied officials are working “around the clock” to resolve the hostage situation in Algeria, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
Earlier this week, Panetta confirmed that Americans are among those taken hostage in eastern Algeria Jan. 16 when terrorists attacked and occupied a natural gas plant. During a speech at King’s College today, the secretary departed from his prepared remarks to comment on the situation.
“I just received a briefing from my staff, and we are continuing to work very closely with the British government and with other nations … to assess precisely what is happening on the ground,” he said. “Even as we continue to try and gather better information about what has happened, let me make a few points.”
First, Panetta said, “Regardless of the motivation of the hostage-takers, there is no justification — NO justification — for the kidnapping and murder of innocent people … going about their daily lives.”
Second, he said, “We are working around the clock to ensure the safe return of our citizens, and we will continue to be in close consultation with the Algerian government.”
Third, he continued, “Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge — not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere. Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide.”
Shortly after his speech, the secretary attended an unscheduled meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron. As the two entered the meeting, Cameron was heard to say, “Let’s start with Algeria.”
Senior defense officials traveling with Panetta said the Algeria and Mali discussion took up approximately half of the meeting. It focused on policy rather than tactics, officials said. The two leaders had an in-depth discussion of the unfolding situation in Algeria, exchanged assessments and compared notes.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.