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The French, British and American connections in Algeria

By Laurie Bennett

January 18, 2013 at 11:31am

Few industries show global tensions and interdependencies more than oil and gas.

Terrorists on Wednesday raided a Saharan gas field run by the Algerian-owned Sonatrach, UK-based BP and the Norwegian firm Statoil.

Foreign workers taken hostage included American, British, Norwegian, French, Irish and Japanese citizens.

Some were freed and a still undetermined number died as Algerian troops stormed the facility.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Friday on Friday described the attack as a terrorist act.

“I don’t think there’s any question that, based on what we do know, that this was a terrorist act and that the terrorists have affiliation with Al Qaeda,” Panetta told Martha Raddatz of ABC News.

Algeria

CNN quotes unnamed sources as saying the terrorists may have trained in Libya.

As the map above illustrates, the three main operators of the Algerian facility also do business in the neighboring country. The Muckety map shows oil company connections to the gas field, as well as terrorist connections to Al-Qaeda.

The Guardian reports that a British intelligence team is flying in to help achieve release of UK citizens. The U.S. has flown a surveillance drone over the facility.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday described the crisis as “very fluid.”

“More broadly, what we are seeing in Mali, in Algeria, reflects the broader strategic challenge first and foremost for the countries in North Africa and for the United States and the broader international community,” Clinton said. “Instability in Mali has created the opportunity for a staging base and safe haven for terrorists.”

The siege, by a group variously known as the Signed-in-Blood Battalion or Signatories by Blood, has been reported as retaliation for France’s intervention in Mali.

However, some intelligence experts question that, saying the attack would have required lengthy planning.

The group’s leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has prospered by kidnapping foreigners and smuggling arms, cigarettes and drugs, according to a profile in the New York Times. He has vowed to avenge the death of Abdelmalik Droukdel, a mentor of Osama Bin Laden.

Mauritania’s ANI news agency has reported that Belmokhtar is offering to free American hostages in exchange for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui.

Rahman, known as “The Blind Sheikh,” is serving a life sentence in the U.S. after being convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Siddiqui has not been charged with terrorist acts, but was convicted in 2010 of assault with intent to murder U.S. interrogators.

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