US Embassy Algiers: Hostages Taken at In Amenas Gas Complex in Algeria

The notice below is not showing on US Embassy Algiers website as of this writing, but is available on the DS-run OSAC website. The embassy issued the following emergency message for U.S. Citizens in Algeria following the attacks on the BP Facilities in In Amenas, some 60 miles from the Libyan border:

1/16/2013 |

The U.S. Embassy in Algiers has received information that there was an attack on BP personnel and facilities in the city of In Amenas, Algeria this morning.  We condemn this terrorist attack in the strongest terms.  We are keeping close watch of the situation.  We are in contact with Algerian authorities and our colleagues at the British Embassy in Algiers, as well as with BP’s security office in London and the Diplomatic Security office in Washington.

At this time, we are not aware of any US Citizen casualties.  We stand ready to assist any US Citizens.

U.S. citizens should review their personal security plans, remain aware of their surroundings, including local events, and monitor local news stations for updates.  Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security and follow instructions of local authorities.   Regardless of where you are, keep your security and situational awareness levels high.  U.S. citizens are urged to monitor local news reports and to plan their activities accordingly.

Via Danger Room, Wired.com

Via Danger Room, Wired.com

USNews has reported that a group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, called a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation on the Ain Amenas gas field, taking 41 hostages from nine or 10 different nationalities.  On early Wednesday, Islamist militants have reportedly attacked and occupied a natural gas field partly operated by BP in southern Algeria.  Two people have reportedly been killed and the facility has reportedly been surrounded by Algerian forces.

Nigeria Online adds that the location of the attack is 800 miles from the capital in Algeria’s vast southern desert.  BP, together with Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company, Sonatrach, operate the gas field. Statoil is said to have about 20 employees in the facility. A Japanese company, JGC Corp, also reportedly provides services for the facility.

The UK Foreign Office released the following statement:

“There is in an ongoing terrorist incident near the town of Ain Amenas at an oil installation near the Algerian border with Libya.

“We can confirm that British nationals are caught up in this incident.

“The FCO has political and consular crisis teams working on this incident. The British Embassy in Algiers is liaising with the local authorities.”

We will not be confirming further details at this time.

ITV News is reporting that the militant group has claimed it is holding seven Americans among the 41 Algeria hostages.  More about the developing news here.

The State Department had since confirmed that Americans were among the hostages but released no further details:

“Beyond confirming that there are Americans among the hostages, I will ask you to respect our decision not to get into any further details as we try to secure these people,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.

The Telegraph has the following additional details about a 2012 report forecasting the likelihood of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attacking energy facilities in the Sahara within two years:

In a 2012 report, risk consultants Exclusive Analysis – recently acquired by IHS – warned that “The greatest expansion of terrorist activity [in Algeria] is occurring in the south and the border areas, where AQIM factions based in northern Mali, such as Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), can penetrate the provinces of Illizi, Adrar, Tindouf and Tamanrasset to conduct kidnap for ransom and attacks on Algerian security forces,” Firas Abi Ali, Deputy Head of MENA Forecasting wrote.

“AQIM’s southern factions, based near the borders with Mali and Niger, are growing stronger. They have kidnapped a number of Westerners and possess a proven vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) capability.

Danger Room already has tomorrow’s news as the war in Mali spills over into Algeria:

“U.S. citizens have been taken hostage by an extremist group out to avenge the French offensive against Islamist fighters in Mali, an unforeseen consequence of the operation that could get the U.S. involved directly in the conflict.”

And has this reminder:

“It may be worth noting that the Defense Department has faced criticism for not being able to deploy special operations forces and other military assets in time to prevent the deadly September assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Africa Command had an unarmed surveillance drone over the site of the battle, but the incident ended too quickly for a mobilization. Amongst the explanations offered by the Pentagon is that Panetta, Africa Command chief Gen. Carter Ham and other senior leaders did not have sufficient time or visibility into what specifically was taking place in Benghazi to carry out a response.”

“It might also be worth noting that U.S. special operations forces have extensive experience in hostage rescue.”

Image via Online Nigeria

Image via Online Nigeria

In this report (see Al-Qaida carves out own country in Mali), the AP notes that AQIM operates not just in Mali, but in a corridor along much of the northern Sahel and that this “7,000-kilometer (4,300-mile) long ribbon of land runs across the widest part of Africa, and includes sections of Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso and Chad.”

A related item — the USG policy on hostage taking and kidnappings is on the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (see 7 FAM 1820) which covers private Americans as well as official Americans. The regs was most recently updated in June 2012. Is spells out USG policy:

“The U.S. Government will make no concessions to individuals or groups holding official or private U.S. citizens hostage. The United States will use every appropriate resource to gain the safe return of U.S. citizens who are held hostage. At the same time, it is U.S. Government policy to deny hostage takers the benefits of ransom, prisoner releases, policy changes, or other acts of concession. See 7 FAM 1821 e regarding U.S. Government policy and limitations on the role of Foreign Service posts and the Department of State should private citizens, organizations or companies elect to negotiate with hostage takers or pay ransom.”

Flashing red on Africa. We will continue to keep tabs of the emergency messages coming out of Algeria, Mali and neighboring outposts.

 

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Congressional Reps Inspect Diplomatic Facilities, Guess Where They Went?

The Federal Times reported recently that seven members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were on a mission inspecting security arrangements for State Department personnel in various diplomatic posts in the Middle East. Apparently the aim is to better evaluate the commitments of host nations’ to keeping American embassies and consulates secure.

Woohoo! Excerpt below:

To better protect its diplomatic personnel abroad, the United States must better evaluate the commitments of host nations’ to keeping American embassies and consulates secure, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., said during a tour of the Middle East on Wednesday.

DesJarlais is one of seven members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee inspecting security arrangements for State Department personnel in the region as part of its ongoing inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others dead.

“You want to ensure against future loss of American life,” DesJarlais said as he spoke with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on a conference call from Cyprus. Issa is the committee chairman.

So far, the group has inspected American facilities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in Israel and in Turkey and Lebanon. Issa said plans call for three more stops but for security reasons could not reveal the destinations.

“We’re seeing quite a diversity in the needs of the different embassies,” DesJarlais said.
[…]
The United States, DesJarlais and Issa added, also needs to evaluate the locations of some of its diplomatic outposts. Some places, they said, may just be too fraught with security risks.

As for what’s needed from Washington, both members downplayed calls for new major spending on embassy security, even though Democrats have complained about Republican appropriators failing to meet the Obama administration’s recent annual budget requests for embassy security by amounts ranging from $90 million to $300 million.

Read in full here.

The Tennessean also reported that the group is not stopping in Benghazi itself, since apparently, according to Congressman DesJarlais, aerial photography and other means have already shown what the problems were there. But here is the important detail:

“In addition to visiting American facilities, the congressional delegation is talking to key officials in the host countries as part of their assessment of those nations’ commitment to using their own resources to protect embassies and consulates.”

How come this guy DesJarlais sounds familiar? Oh …

Anyway – the congressional delegation reportedly went and visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in Israel, and also visited Turkey and Lebanon.  Possibly Cyprus and 2-3 more posts not revealed for “security purposes.”  Yes, the delegation did not stop in Benghazi, and we don’t know if they have plans to stop in Tripoli or the US Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen or the US Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia, or the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. And Khartoum.

Khaaaartoum, anyone?

Hey, are we to understand that the delegation were also in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus for some inspection?  Any recent anti-U.S. demos and mobs attacking our American facilities there?

So here we are supremely perplexed.  Have you ever heard of an incident where the Government of Israel allowed protesters to over run our diplomatic compounds in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv without an appropriate response?  No?  Have you ever heard of an incident where the Government of Turkey took 4-6 hours to respond to a mob attack in Ankara or Istanbul or Adana? Or that they never showed up?  Nope, we don’t remember that happening either. Well,  have you?

So why the foxtrot are these congressional folks wasting taxpayer dollars visiting Israel and Turkey to assess “those nations’ commitment to using their own resources to protect” our embassies and consulates?

We did have problematic responses from host countries in Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Sudan as evidenced by damages from the September 2012 embassy attacks. Is the CODEL visiting those countries and talking to host country officials about rapid response in protecting our diplomatic facilities there?

Or for that matter, why the heck are they not inspecting all the newly designated 17 high threat posts of the State Department and assessing those countries commitment to protecting our people and facilities? There’s a good number of garden posts to choose from — Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen. Why not visit those?

Pardon me?

Well — if they’ve got second thoughts about visiting and inspecting Afghanistan, they should listen to Mr. Farahi quoted in the NYT: “Afghanistan is a country very suitable for attracting tourists …. It’s a place where tourists can have all their wishes come true.”

Seriously, if it’s a place suitable for tourists, dammit it should be suitable for a CODEL visit, too.