Algeria’s response to hostage crisis should not be judged
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 01:01
At dawn last Wednesday, 32 alleged al-Qaida militants entered a secluded natural gas plant in In Amenas, Algeria, hell-bent on taking as many hostages from the facility as they could to Mali for ransom. Their plans were thwarted by the facility’s security and the Algerian military, but not before the horrific events took the lives of 37 hostages including three Americans.
But though the Algerian government received unwarranted criticism from American and other counter-terrorism specialists for their hasty reaction to the situation, the Algerian government, reacted in the only way that it could to deter the terrorists from destroying the plant and causing even more bloodshed.
Though there is little official information about the attack’s sequence of events, the U.S. should not be so quick to question the actions of the Algerian military, which was simply reacting to a difficult scenario.
While Algeria could have waited for America or other allied military powers to launch surveillance drones or other intelligence tactics to make sure civilian casualties were minimal, there is no telling how quickly the supposed jihadist militants would have held out before they started shooting. By the time Algeria military forces entered the facility and started sniper fire, the facility’s security had already thwarted the terrorists’ first attempt to hijack a bus carrying facility workers to a nearby airport. After their first plan failed, the militants gathered as many hostages they could, by which time they were surroundedby Algerian military forces.
The kidnappers then became desperate and started attaching explosives to hostages trying to escape the facility, which was when the Algerian military had to make the hardest decision that any law enforcement or military official would ever have to make — take action or wait to see how violent militants handled being surrounded.
Algeria’s military decided to take the only sensible, albeit unfortunate, action it could. They shot some of the terrorists including the group’s alleged leader Mohamed Lamine Ben Shanab, leaving only three alive.
Algeria, like the U.S., has taken the stance to never negotiate with terrorists.
In a region that has been plagued by al-Qaida and other terrorist activity, which Algeria has received the brunt of, there are not enough words to describe the difficulty of dealing with hostile scenarios like the one that took place last week. Any action or inaction during the attacks could have lead to more bloodshed. But passing judgment on the Algerian government for doing what they believed to be the best course of action to end the attacks is unwise.