UPDATED: 12:00 noon CST | The situation on the ground in Algerian oil refinery appears to be rapidly deteriorating into chaos. Details are still emerging, but initial live reports from the Associated Press state that 35 hostages and 15 of the heavily armed terrorists were killed when the Algerian Military launched a massive helicopter gunship attack on the BP Oil refinery where the hostages were being held. Twenty to 26 others hostages, including one or more Americans, are reported to have escaped their captors earlier in the day.
There has been no official statement from the government of Algeria, but sources in the British Foreign Office confirmed “an ongoing military operation.” One source, basing their information on a report from the scene, said “that the Algerians were firing from helicopters at anything that moved.”
Reports on how many hostages managed to escape vary. Some news services reported 26 hostages escaped; 22 Algerians, one American, two British and one French citizen. Other reports claim only 20 hostages escaped, including several Americans.
A Mauritanian news outlet claims to be in contact with the hostage takers, who are reported to be from the Katibat Moulathamine (The Masked Brigade), a group with ties to al Qaeda. A spokesman for the terrorists said Abou El Baraa, the leader of the kidnappers, was killed in the helicopter attack.
The terrorists seized the oil refinery on Wednesday, taking 41 hostages. They claimed the attack on the refinery was in revenge for Algeria’s support of France’s invasion of Mali and demanded an immediate pullout of all foreign military from the neighboring country.
Algeria took a hard-line stand with the terrorists, refused to negotiate, and quickly surrounded the facility with troops and heavy equipment.
Interior Minister, Daho Ould Kablia, stated the position of the Algerian government:
“Algeria will not respond to terrorist demands and rejects all negotiations.”
Before the Algerian assault on the refinery began, Al Jazeera managed to speak with the terrorist commander, Abou El Baraa. The conversation took place just minutes before Barra was killed by Algerian gunfire:
“Yesterday, the Algerian army deliberately opened fire and they injured some of the hostages from Japan and South Korea. If the army withdrew from the area, lifted this siege, and abandoned their obstinate approach, this can open the door for negotiations with governments of the hostages’ countries.”
The miltants who seized the refinery are members of an Islamist organization led by a notorious terrorist named Moktar Belmoktar, a man with many years experience as a dedicated Jihadi fighter. Terrorism experts dispute the Algerian claims that the attack was a spontaneous reaction to the French Invasion of Mali, citing threats Belmoktar made last month to strike Western interests in the region.
Belmoktar is “renowned for hostage-taking and smuggling anything from cigarettes to refugees,” according to CNN. He is a unwavering believer in establishing a Muslim Caliphate. According to Robert Fowler, a Canadian diplomat who was taken hostage in 2009 and held for 130 days, Katibat Moulathamine’s leader wants to force the entire world to submit to Sharia Law:
“They hate states. It’s all about God’s dominion on Earth. They don’t want a country. They want the world. They want the world to be ruled by God through the strict and uncompromising application of sharia [Islamic law].”
The last update from Fox News in Algeria, received minutes ago at 9:30 am CST, reported that some of the American hostages who escaped managed to call home and speak to their families. The Inquisitr will continue to monitor the crisis in Algeria and provide updates as they become available.
Update 10:45 am CST:
BP, the joint owner of the oil refinery in Algeria, just issued a press release confirming that the Algerian Military did launch an attack on the terrorists:
“We have been informed by the UK and Algerian governments that the Algerian army is attempting to take control of the In Amenas site.”
“The situation remains unclear and we continue to seek updates from the authorities.”
“Sadly, there have been some reports of casualties but we are still lacking any confirmed or reliable information. There are also reports of hostages being released or escaping.”
“Supporting these families is our priority and we are doing all we can to help during this sad and uncertain time,” said Bob Dudley, BP Group Chief Executive. We are in contact with the UK and Algerian Governments and will provide updates as soon as further confirmed information is available.”
“As a precautionary measure, staged plans are underway to bring a group of non-essential workers out of Algeria.”
Update 12:00 noon CST:
“Nearly 600 Algerian workers and four foreign hostages – two from Scotland, one from France and one from Kenya – were freed during the operation.”
Reports from London indicate the British Prime Minister is upset over the fact that the British government was not notified by the Algerians before the attack began:
“Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal called UK counterpart David Cameron to say the operation was under way at 11:30 GMT. Mr Cameron made clear that he would have preferred to have been informed in advance, but the Algerians said they had to act.”
According to conversations between the remaining terrorists and Mauritania’s ANI news agency, seven foreign hostages are still alive. The Algerian military has surrounded the refinery, but it remains unclear if combat is continuing at the present time.
We also have a report that the government of Japan is asking the Algerians to halt the operation and not to further endanger the lives of the hostages.