x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Algeria to tighten plant security

Algeria is to increase security at its oil and gas installations after last week's terrorist attack and the military assault that left 85 dead and exposed the increased threat from Al Qaeda in North Africa.

A worker at the Zarzaitine gas field in Ain Amenas. Algeria’s energy minister says the country has ‘the necessary means to secure its energy facilities’.
A worker at the Zarzaitine gas field in Ain Amenas. Algeria’s energy minister says the country has ‘the necessary means to secure its energy facilities’.

Algeria is to increase security at its oil and gas installations, after last week's terrorist attack and the military assault that left 85 dead and exposed the increased threat from Al Qaeda in North Africa.

After the final Algerian special-forces assault on the remote Saharan Ain Amenas facility on Saturday, authorities said at least 23 hostages and 32 militants had been killed.

On Monday, security forces found about 30 additional bodies, believed to be those of Algerian and foreign hostages, according to Al Watan newspaper.

Algeria's energy minister, Youcef Yousfi, said the nation had "the necessary means to secure its energy facilities", the state-run Algeria Press Service reported.

"We are going to strengthen security and we rely first on our means and resources."

Foreign forces would not be used, he added.

The US president, Barack Obama, and the British prime minister, David Cameron, said the attack underlined the threat posed by militant groups in North Africa.

Militants belonging to Al Mulathameen - which is headed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed Algerian militant, and has links to Al Qaeda - claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group said its assault was prompted by the arrival last week of French forces seeking to block Islamist militants from taking control of neighbouring Mali.

In a statement published on Mauritania's private ANI news agency yesterday, Al Mulathameen also warned of further attacks against any country backing the French military action in Mali.

While the Algerian authorities have yet to provide a full account of what took place and who died, some countries have confirmed their casualty details.

The dead hostages included six Filipinos, three Britons, two Romanians, five Norwegians, an American and a Frenchman.

Five people were still said to be missing yesterday, including four BP employees. The company said it as "gravely concerned" about the workers.

Mr Cameron yesterday compared the terrorist threat in North Africa to that in Afghanistan and said it would require "years, even decades" to resolve.

Britain would use its chairmanship of the Group of Eight industrialised countries to seek a joint response, he said.

Survivors yesterday continued to give their harrowing, first-hand accounts of the chaotic and terrifying scenes inside the plant during the siege.

An Algerian engineer called Tahar told Le Soir d'Algerie newspaper of masked gunmen dressed in military uniforms, and of hostages forced to wear explosives around their necks.

Algeria's energy minister, Yousef Al Yousefi, visited the gas plant on Monday and said the physical damage was limited.

"Once the damage is assessed, we will replace the equipment hit" and determine when the plant would be able to resume operating, he said. Workers expected to restart equipment within days, he added.

Algerian troops first attempted a rescue last Thursday, a day after the terrorists attacked the complex.

The Algerian interior ministry said the attack began when gunmen attacked a bus carrying 19 foreigners to an airport.

Security staff fought off the assault with the loss of one of their men and a British passenger.

The gunmen then attacked the gas plant itself, three kilometres away, and started taking hostages.

"The priority of preserving lives, the risks linked to the nature of gas facilities, the configuration of the site, and the menace that weighed on the hostages made the intervention of the National Popular Army very complex," the ministry said.