Insight: Mystery Canadian coordinated Algeria gas field attack, premier says

Mon Jan 21, 2013 12:41pm EST
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By Lamine Chikhi

ALGIERS (Reuters) - The Islamist attack on the sprawling desert gas complex in southern Algeria that triggered one of the worst hostage crises in years was conceived in Mali and coordinated by a mystery Canadian named only as Chedad, the Algerian prime minister said.

Five days after about 40 jihadist fighters raided the facility not far from the Libyan border and Algeria responded with a full-on military operation to kill or capture them, a picture of what happened is emerging.

While some hostages escaped in the early stages of the crisis, hopes soon faded for dozens of others once the army decided to take on the raiders.

Workers from the United States, Britain, France, Japan, Romania, Norway and the Philippines were either dead or missing, with the overall death toll among hostages and militants put at 67 and potentially rising by up to five.

Those who escaped had harrowing tales to tell. One Briton recounted how the attackers had strapped Semtex plastic explosive around his neck, bound his hands and taped his mouth. Another man hid for more than a day and a half under his bed as jihadist fighters searched the workers' residential complex.

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said the plot had been hatched in war-ravaged Mali and the attackers had traveled through Niger and Libya before slipping into Algeria.

The jihadists were said to come from Egypt, Mauritania, Niger, Tunisia, Mali, Algeria and, in one case, from Canada. The Canadian, identified initially as Chedad, was coordinating the raiders, Sellal said.

The In Amenas gas plant probably felt impregnable to those who worked there - fenced in, hundreds of miles from anywhere and with the Algerian army patrolling its desert approaches.   Continued...

A delegation led by Algerian Oil Minister Youcef Yousfi and Japanese vice Foreign Affairs Minister Miuro Kiuchi visit the Tiguentourine Gas Plant, located about 50 km (30 miles) from the town of In Amenas in this still image from video footage taken on January 20, 2013. Japanese vice Foreign Affairs Minister Kiuchi led a delegation of Japanese officials to the Tiguentourine Gas Plant deep in the Sahara on Sunday, where at least 48 hostages were killed during the four-day siege. At least 10 Japanese are still missing in the plant which is operated by Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state energy company. Japanese engineering firm JGC is one of the foreign companies operating in the plant which is close to the Libyan border. REUTERS/Canal Algerie via Reuters TV