Algerian forces surround hostage-takers
Algeria said its forces had encircled a gas field where Islamist militants were holding a large group of foreign workers, including a 36-year-old Irish man, as hostages near the border with Libya yesterday.
The Islamists claimed to have taken 41 workers captive because of Algeria’s decision to allow France to use its air space for attacks against rebel forces in neighbouring Mali.
Ireland, the United States, Norway, the UK and Japan said they believed their citizens were among the hostages. The Department of Foreign Affairs was in contact with the family of the Irish citizen, believed to be a married man from Co Antrim.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the Government was ready to use “all the resources available to us to ensure that our citizen is released as soon as possible”.
At least two people were killed, according to Algerian state media, when a heavily armed group in six vehicles attacked the site near In Amenas, about 100km from the Algeria-Libya border, at 5am yesterday. The gas field is run by BP, Norwegian oil firm Statoil and Algerian state company Sonatrach.
Algerian interior minister Daho Ould Kablia said the militants were surrounded by state forces. “The Algerian authorities will not respond to the demands of the terrorists and will not negotiate,” he was quoted as saying by official news agency APS.
A group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, called a Mauritanian news agency to say one of its subsidiaries had carried out the operation. That group is thought to be led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian with a history of kidnapping and smuggling across a swathe of desert that includes parts of Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The French foreign ministry set up a crisis centre to co-ordinate its response to the incident. It made no official comment but its officials were involved in intensive discussions with African and European capitals, including Dublin.
BP confirmed armed men were still occupying facilities at the gas field, which produces a tenth of Algeria’s overall gas output, but said contact with the site was “extremely difficult”. A company spokesman would not be drawn on whether there were any talks with the hostage-takers.