Middle East

Algeria defends response to In Amenas hostage crisis

This Jan. 31, 2013, file photo shows Algerian soldiers standing guard during a visit for news media organized by the Algerian authorities at a gas plant in Ain Amenas, seen on background. (AP Photo/File)

ALGIERS: Algeria Friday defended its controversial military intervention to end the bloody seizure by armed Islamists last year of the In Amenas desert gas plant, in which 38 hostages were killed.

"The intervention by the Algerian security forces was imperative for saving hundreds of human lives and for protecting a strategic site that the terrorists were planning to blow up," foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani said in a statement.

His comments come days before the January 16 anniversary of the hostage crisis, which saw hundreds of staff held at the plant until the security forces brought the standoff to a bloody end.

The statement follows articles in the foreign media quoting survivors blaming poor security at the site, which lies deep in the Sahara desert, 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) southeast of Algiers.

Belani slammed "the one-sided agitating in certain foreign media around the anniversary."

"We vigorously reject the biased claims and absurd allegations published by those media which ... almost exonerate the authors of this heinous attack and portray a gang of lawless criminals as potential interlocutors with whom there was an opportunity to negotiate."

The hostage raid was masterminded by veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar whose breakaway Al-Qaeda group "Signatories in Blood" claimed the four-day siege, saying it was in retaliation for France's military intervention against Islamist militants in Mali.

The spectacular assault on the isolated facility, which was jointly operated by British oil giant BP and Norway's Statoil, ended in a bloodbath, with 38 hostages, all but one of them foreign, killed by the time the army ended the crisis, as well as 29 militants.

After the attack, Algeria said it was beefing up the protection of facilities run by foreign oil companies.

Statoil said in September that security at the site had relied too heavily on Algerian military protection.





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