On the Terrorist Attack In Algeria

I don’t believe we have written anything about the terrorist attack on the Algerian gas plant at Ain Amenas. News accounts have generally been sketchy, but with the siege now over, more details have emerged. The Associated Press reports:

Algerian bomb squads scouring a gas plant where Islamist militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage found 25 more bodies on Sunday as they searched for explosive traps left behind by the attackers, a security official said, a day after a bloody raid ended the four-day siege of the remote desert refinery. …

He said the militants came from six countries and were armed to cause maximum destruction. Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway’s Statoil, said the entire refinery had been mined.

“They had decided to succeed in the operation as planned, to blow up the gas complex and kill all the hostages,” said Communications Minister Mohamed Said, speaking on a state radio interview.

It is noteworthy that the terrorists came from six countries; also significant is the fact that when the terrorists first seized the refinery, they let hundreds of Algerian workers go and kept foreign workers from a number of countries as hostages. News accounts often emphasize that Algeria has been fighting Islamic terrorism since the 1990s, which is true, but this most recent attack appears to be a different phenomenon with a more international focus, notwithstanding the terrorists’ demands (see below).

Some have criticized the Algerian government for using force to retake the refinery rather than negotiating with the terrorists:

Algeria’s response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation — first on Thursday, then on Saturday.

“Mediation?” Seriously?


An audio recording of Algerian security forces speaking with the head of the kidnappers, Abdel Rahman al-Nigiri, indicates that the hostage-takers were trying to organize a prisoner swap with authorities.

“You see our demands are so easy, so easy if you want to negotiate with us,” al-Nigiri said in the recording broadcast by Algerian television. “We want the prisoners you have, the comrades who were arrested and imprisoned 15 years ago. We want 100 of them.”

This is a typical terrorist demand, and one that should never be acceded to. While I can’t address the specific tactics used by the Algerian government, their refusal to negotiate with the terrorists and their determination to bring the siege to a reasonably quick resolution are the right approach. Terrorists thrive on notoriety and usually want to prolong hostage dramas as much as possible (Cf. the Americans held in Tehran for more than a year). In general, the quicker the terrorists are killed, the better. Where it is possible to save hostages, efforts should be made to do so. But the cold reality is that terrorists generally have the ability to kill hostages if they so choose, and that result, if it occurs, should be blamed on no one but the perpetrators.

This comment by Obama adviser David Plouffe strikes me as myopic:

David Plouffe, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said Sunday that al-Qaida and al-Qaida-affiliated groups remain a threat in northern Africa and other parts of the world, and that the U.S. is determined to help other countries destroy these networks. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Plouffe said the tragedy in Algeria shows once again “that all across the globe countries are threatened by terrorists who will use civilians to try and advance their twisted and sick agenda.”

You can call it a “twisted and sick agenda,” but in fact, the extension of the Ummah and the establishment of sharia are mainstream goals shared by millions of Muslims. Islamic terrorists in general are not crazy; they are religious zealots whose interpretation of the Koran is a plausible one. In many instances, they are intelligent and well-educated. It would be helpful if responsible officials, rather than denouncing the terrorists’ agenda as “twisted and sick,” had a more realistic appreciation of what that agenda really is.

Finally, with the locus of Islamic terrorism shifting, at least for the moment, from the Middle East to Africa, it is worth noting–again–that Islamic terrorism has absolutely nothing to do with Israel. The Obama administration, mired in the past as usual, seems not to have outgrown the delusion that if the United States distances itself from Israel, a frequent but hardly exclusive target of Islamic terrorism, it will somehow palliate the terrorists. The futility of this policy is impossible to overstate.

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