Gas plant killers had inside help
on 21/01/2013 16:52:58
They wore Algerian army uniforms, memorised the layout, included a former worker with detailed knowledge of the plant and had team of explosives experts ready to blow the place up and
Algeria offered a grim toll in the attack, saying that 38 hostages and 29 militants died in four days of mayhem.
The dead hostages included seven Japanese workers and three energy workers each from the US and Britain.
Three of the attackers were captured and five foreign workers remain unaccounted for, Algerian prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal told a news conference.
His account offered the first Algerian government explanation of the four-day stand-off, from the moment of the attempted bus hijacking to the moment when the attackers began to prepare to explode bombs across the massive gas plant that sprawled over two square miles.
All but one of the dead hostages - an Algerian driver - were foreigners. The prime minister said three attackers were captured but did not specify their nationalities.
He said the Islamists included a former driver at the complex who was from Niger and that the militants "knew the facility's layout by heart."
The militants had said during the stand-off that their band included people from Canada, and hostages who had escaped recalled hearing at least one of them speaking with a North American accent.
In addition to the Canadians, the cell included men from Egypt, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Tunisia, as well as three Algerians.
"You may have heard the last words of the terrorist chief," Mr Sellal said. "He gave the order for all the foreigners to be killed, so there was a mass execution, many hostages were killed by a bullet to the head."
The attack began early on Wednesday with the attempted hijacking of two buses filled with workers outside the complex.
Under assault from Algerian forces, the militants moved on the main complex, armed with missiles, mortars and bombs for their three explosives experts.
Mr Sellal praised the quick reaction of a guard who set of an alarm that stopped the flow of gas and warned workers of an imminent attack.
"It was thanks to him that the factory was protected," he said.
Five foreigners remained unaccounted for, he said.
He said the facility had 790 Algerian workers and 134 foreigners from 26 countries.
The Algerians were freed early in the stand-off - former hostages said the attackers immediately separated out the foreigners, forcing some to wear explosive belts.
The prime minister said the heavily armed militants came from Mali carrying a great deal of explosives and mined the facility. They had prepared the attack for two months.
He justified the helicopter attack last Thursday on vehicles filled with hostages out of the fear the kidnappers were attempting to escape.
The Algerian special forces assault on the refinery on Saturday that killed the last group of militants and hostages came after the kidnappers attempted to destroy the complex.
The Masked Brigade, the group that claimed to have masterminded the takeover, warned of more such attacks against any country backing France's military intervention in neighbouring Mali, where the French are trying to stop an advance by Islamic extremists.
Mr Sellal said the militants had expected to return to Mali with the foreign hostages. Seven French citizens taken hostage in recent years are thought to be held by al Qaida linked groups in northern Mali.
"Their goal was to kidnap foreigners," he said. "They wanted to flee to Mali with the foreigners but once they were surrounded they started killing the first hostages."
The operation was led by an Algerian, Amine Benchenab, who was known to security services and was killed during the assault, he added. He said negotiating was essentially impossible.
"They led us into a real labyrinth, in negotiations that became unreasonable," he said.