Situation in Algiers Intensifies

Al-Qaeda linked abductors hold 41 western hostages, demand the retreat of French forces from Mali. West prepares to respond "with all the necessary measures"
French forces in Mali (Photo: AP) French forces in Mali (Photo: AP)

Is the West becoming entangled in North Africa? Members of the Islamic militia in South Algiers announced that they have successfully blocked an attempt by the Algerian military to enter the gas field where they are holding dozens of Western hostages. The group took over the gas field yesterday, taking approximately 200 people hostage with a demand to stop the French military operation in Mali. The group is identified with Al-Qaeda.

The Mauritanian news agency has reported that during the night, the abductors released approximately 150 Algerian hostages, but continue to hold the 41 foreign hostages that they have. Among the foreign hostages are people of British, French, US and Japanese citizenship. France, the US and Britain announced that they will make every effort to release the hostages as soon as possible. The British television network BBC reported that the British Foreign Minister, William Hague, said that the British government is working around the clock towards a solution to the situation which he defined as “very dangerous.” Hague expressed doubt as to a direct connection between the abduction and between the French attack in Mali, and noted that “it usually takes a great amount of time to plan such operations.”

Following the reports that there are seven US citizens among the hostages, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that the US will respond to the hostage crisis, and “will act with all of the necessary measures.”

At the same time, The French military began a ground assault in the area of northern Mali, in an effort to push back Al-Qaeda fighters which have taken over this part of the country. France began the military operation during the weekend, with the bombing of the organization’s centers of power in Mali. French President François Hollande announced that the operation will continue until the areas are freed from the hands of Al-Qaeda.