Weekly round-up of the biggest stories from the continent.
Algeria hostage crisis: summary
A four-day siege in the Algerian Sahara has left over fifty people dead including many oil refinery workers, many of whom are foreign nationals.
The crisis began on Wednesday January 16th, when two buses transporting workers at the BP/Statoil-owned oil refinery were hijacked by a group of Islamic militants. After a gun battle, the militants took control of the security compound from which the buses had left, capturing dozens of workers, including many foreigners.
The following day the militants demanded talks with the governments of the captured nationals, who included amongst their number citizens of the UK, France, Japan, the USA, the Phillipines, Romania, Norway, and Malaysia, as well as local Algerians.
The militants claim that France’s intervention in nearby Mali triggered the attack, although this claim has been discredited by some security experts as being unlikely due to the amount of planning the assault would have taken. The French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the militant action as an “act of war”.
Algeria has said that the militants were made up of several different nationalities, including Canada, Mauritania, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Niger and Algeria itself.
The militants’ leader on the ground, Abu al-Baraa, told Al-Jazeera television that the Algerian army, which had surrounded the compound, must withdraw. However, Algerian military helicopters responded with deadly force, air striking vehicles containing both militants and hostages and allegedly killing al-Baraa. The air assault and ensuing chaos allegedly left 15 militants and 35 hostages dead. A second, ground-based assault by Algerian special forces soldiers followed on Friday, during which the last seven hostages died.
In total, at least 39 foreign hostages were killed, according to the Algerian government. 29 militants were killed, and three captured alive. Almost 700 Algerian workers and more than 100 foreigners escaped.
Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the kidnappers were operating under the orders of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was a senior commander of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM) until late last year, when he set up his own armed group.
Mali: Militant group breaks rank
As the fighting continues in northern Mali, one militant group has broken away and requested peace talks.
The Islamic Movement for Azawad (ISM), which had been aligned with the Tuareg Ansar Dine group, said in a statement that it”rejects all forms of extremism and terrorism” and wants to enter into dialogue with the Malian government.
The influential ISM leader Alghabass Ag Intalla said: “We are a group of people from the north of Mali who have a set of grievances that date back at least 50 years. We are not terrorists. We are ready to negotiate.”
Since the intervention of French military forces, several key towns and cities have been recaptured from the northern militant network. Mali’s efforts to repel the militants has been further boosted recently by military support from other African countries.
Libya: Westerners urged to leave Benghazi
A number of Western governments have urged their nationals to leave the Libyan city of Benghazi immediately. The UK, Germany and France have all warned their citizens that their safety is at stake if they remain in the Libyan second city.
The British Foreign Office said in a statement that there was now a “specific, imminent threat” to its citizens in Benghazi, following the French military intervention in Mali, which has inflamed anti-Western sentiment amongst some sections of Libya’s population. The UK added that it had received “credible, serious and specific” information about a possible terrorist attack.
Likewise, Germany said it had been “made aware of a specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi,” adding that German citizens should “immediately leave the city and region of Benghazi”.
Libya’s deputy interior minister Abdullah Massoud said that the security situation in Benghazi did not warrant such a response.
In September 2012 the United States ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans died during an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.