ALGIERS - Islamist militants attacked a gas field in Algeria on Wednesday,
claiming to have kidnapped up to 41 foreigners including seven Americans in a
dawn raid in retaliation for France's intervention in Mali, according to
regional media reports.
The raiders were also reported to have killed
three people, including a Briton and a French national.
The attack in southern Algeria also raised fears that the French
action in Mali could prompt further Islamist revenge attacks on Western targets
in Africa, where al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operates across borders
in the Sahara desert, and in Europe.
AQIM said it had carried out
Wednesday's raid on the In Amenas gas facility in OPEC member Algeria,
Mauritania's ANI news agency reported.
Armed men BP said armed men were
still occupying facilities at the gas field, which produces 9 billion cubic
meters of gas a year (160,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day), more than a
tenth of the country's overall gas output, and 60,000 barrels a day of
APS said a Briton and an Algerian security guard had been
killed and seven people were injured. A French national was also killed in the
attack, a local source said. Also among those reported kidnapped by various
sources were five Japanese nationals working for the Japanese engineering firm
JGC Corp, a French national, an Irishman, and a number of Britons.
State Department said it believed some US citizens were also among the hostages,
while Norway said 13 of its nationals were involved.
A member of an
Islamist group styling itself the "Blood Battalion" was quoted by Mauritanian
media as saying that five of the hostages were being held at the gas facility
and 36 were in a housing area. APS said the Islamist raiders had freed Algerians
working at the gas facility.
"The operation was in response to the
blatant interference by Algeria and the opening of its air space to French
aircraft to bomb northern Mali," the Islamist spokesman told Mauritania's ANI
Security implications The attack was the first time in years
that Islamist militants are known to have launched an attack on an Algerian
The attack could have implications for security across
the whole of Algeria's energy sector, which supplies about a quarter of Europe's
natural gas imports and exports millions of barrels of crude oil each
Such an attack would require a large and heavily armed insurgent
force with a degree of freedom to move around, all elements that al-Qaida has
not previously had.
However, the conflict in neighboring Libya in 2011
changed the balance of force. Security experts say al-Qaida was able to obtain
arms, including heavy weapons, from the looted arsenals of former leader Muammar
French troops launched their first ground operation against
Islamist rebels in Mali on Wednesday in an action to dislodge from a strategic
town al-Qaida-linked fighters who have resisted six days of air strikes.