Canadians' possible role in Algeria attack of great concern to U.S.

Thu Jan 31, 2013 5:20pm EST
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By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Signs that Canadian citizens were involved in the attack by hostage-taking Islamist militants on a remote gas plant in Algeria are of great concern to American authorities, U.S. intelligence officials said on Thursday.

While Algerian authorities apparently have not yet provided Western governments with cast-iron proof, a senior U.S. intelligence official said, "We're taking very seriously the reports of the two Canadians' involvement."

Washington has also received intelligence indicating that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed militant who allegedly organized the gas plant attack, and other militants belonging to, or affiliated with al Qaeda's North African branch are plotting new attacks on Western interests, both in the region and beyond, U.S. officials said.

But the information indicates, for now, that such plotting is "aspirational" - in discussion or planning phases - rather than operational. The intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that meant they were not aware of plots actually in progress to attack U.S. or other Western interests.

Confirmation that Canadian citizens were involved in the attack on the In Amenas facility in the Algerian desert would raise concerns about a worrying nexus between North America and North African militants.

At least 38 plant workers, including citizens of Japan, the United States, Britain and France, and nearly 30 militants were killed in the operation to retake control of the facility.

After their security forces stormed the facility, operated by Britain's BP and Norway's Statoil, Algerian officials said two Canadians were among the attackers and that one of them coordinated the attack.

Some witnesses, whom Western national security sources consider credible, said one of the hostage-takers spoke English with either a North American or British accent.   Continued...

A general view of damage caused by a siege by Islamist militants earlier this month at the Tiguentourine Gas Plant in In Amenas, 1600 km (994 miles) southeast of Algiers, January 31, 2013. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi