The North Afrfican Al Qaeda group which seized hostages from 10 nations at the remote Algerian gas field in In Aminas Wednesday, Jan. 16, has addressed its first demand to the United States: The release of two American hostages for two high-profile Islamist terrorists jailed in the US: Egyptian Omar Abdel-Rahman, the Blind Sheikh convicted of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and Pakistani-American neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, convicted for trying to kill US troops and FBI agents in Afghanistan in 2009.
The offer from Moktar Belmoktar, head of al Qaeda’s Signed-in-Blood Battalions, was relayed by a Mauritanian news site Friday afternoon Jan 18. Until now, their most pressing demand was for France to end its military operation in Mali.
The Obama administration has not released information about the Americans held hostage at the gas field. They are believed to number seven.
Friday afternoon, as Algerian special forces were still unable to overpower the terrorists holed up with hostages at a gas facility, US military transports began lifting foreign nationals out of Algeria. Most are oil and gas facility personnel and their families. Their evacuation, which will badly affect the operation of Algeria’s energy industry, indicates fears that more terrorist attacks on oil and gas sites are still to come, with devastating impact on world energy markets.
Military sources in London reported that a British MI6 secret service plane has landed near the Algerian hostage site carrying a command and control team specializing in terrorist situations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called the Cobra emergency cabinet into session Friday night, its third since the hostage crisis erupted. Addressing Parliament earlier, Cameron promised the UK would hunt down the terrorists responsible for the brutal and savage attack in Algeria.
According to the first tentative hostage figures released by Algeria Friday afternoon, the second day of its rescue operation, a total of 650 hostages were taken, of whom 573 were freed – most of them Algerian – indicating that 77 were killed or missing. A total of 132 foreign nationals from 10 nations were taken of whom 66 were freed, which leaves 66 dead or unaccounted for.
None of these figures will be final before the gas field is finally cleansed and secure.
debkafile: Al Qaeda’s demand for the Blind Sheikh’s release from an American jail is intended to embarrass Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who has said he would press for this when he visits Washington soon. This now puts Morsi on the same side as al Qaeda.
Bucked up by their success in keeping the Algerian army at bay and dragging out their first multinational hostage crisis into another day, Al Qaeda in North Africa upped the ante by directly confronting the United States in what is unlikely to be their last demand.