he State Department confirmed on January 16 that Muslim terrorists seized the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, taking at least 20 foreign hostages. Some of the hostages taken at the foreign-owned facility are American citizens.
The official Algerian news agency said that the attack was an apparent retaliation for military intervention by France in neighboring Mali. France also conducted raids over the last few days in Somalia in an effort to release a French intelligence agent.
The Algerian news agency reported that at least two persons were killed in the attack by insurgents at the gas field. One of the dead was from the United Kingdom. Other nationalities represented among the hostages include Japanese, British, French and Norwegians. The Irish government stated that at least one of its nationals is among those being held. Six persons were wounded in the the attack, including two foreigners, two police officers and two security agents, the state news agency reported. Hundreds of Algerians work at the plant and were taken in the attack, but the state news agency reported that they have gradually been released in small groups, unharmed by the late afternoon.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, told reporters in Washington DC that, “the best information that we have at this time is that U.S. citizens are among the hostages.” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the media in Italy that the U.S. has strongly condemned the attack and considers it an act of terrorism. Panetta added that the U.S. "will take all necessary and proper steps" regarding the attack even while he did not specify details.
A Muslim terrorist group, claiming responsibility for the attac, declared that it is hold 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, but the United States hasn't confirmed those numbers. Algerian military units have surrounded the gas field complex. Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia stated on television that "Algeria will not respond to terrorist demands and rejects all negotiations," while denying that the militants were from Mali or Libya, possibly suggesting they were from Algeria itself.
As operator of the site, BP said the site was "attacked and occupied by a group of unidentified armed people," and some of its personnel are believed to be "held by the occupiers." A group called the Katibat Moulathamine, or the Masked Brigade, reportedly informed a Mauritanian news outlet that one of its affiliates was reponsible for the raid. The Masked Brigade was formed by an al-Qaeda associate, Moktar Belmoktar, who recently declared that he was leaving the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb group to form his own organization. Another report, from the Nouakchott Information Agency, said that the raid was carried out by "Those Who Signed in Blood," a group created to exact revenge for the countries involved in defending Mali from Muslim terrorist groups.
The Ain Amenas natural gas field is located more than 600 miles from the Mali border, though it is just 60 miles from Libya's deserts.BP, Statoil and the Algerian state oil company, Sonatrach, operate the field. A Japanese company, JGC Corp, provides services for the facility.
Algeria has long feared that military intervention against Muslim terrorists in Mali would stir up their counterparts in Algeria.