Edward Cody, Debbi Wilgoren and Craig Whitlock
PARIS — Islamist guerrillas seized a number of hostages, including Americans, in a brazen attack early Wednesday on a remote gas-production facility in Algeria, and the United States vowed to take all necessary steps to deal with what it called a “terrorist act.”
Algeria’s official news agency said two people were killed, including a British national, and six were wounded, two of them foreigners, in the attack by what authorities described as a homegrown Algerian terrorist group. There were conflicting accounts of the number of people taken hostage. The agency, Algerie Presse Service, said Algerian troops quickly surrounded the site.
In Rome, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said U.S. officials believe that Americans are among the hostages in Algeria but that they are still trying to determine how many.
“By all indications, this is a terrorist act,” he told reporters after meeting with Italian leaders Wednesday as part of a week-long European trip. “It is a very serious matter when Americans are taken hostage along with others…. I want to assure the American people that the United States will take all necessary and proper steps that are required to deal with this situation.”
Panetta said it remained unclear whether the hostage-takers are connected to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that France is fighting in northern Mali.
“I do know that terrorists are terrorists, and terrorists take these kinds of actions,” he added. “We’ve witnessed their behavior in a number of occasions where they have total disregard for innocent men and women. This appears to be that kind of situation.”
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attack and said 41 hostages were seized, seven of them Americans.
However, Algerie Presse Service (APS) said “a little more than 20 foreign nationals” were captured. It said the hostages were from Norway, Britain, the United States, France and Japan. The captors released Algerian workers in small groups, the agency said.
The assailants arrived in three vehicles and first attacked a bus that was taking foreign workers from the gas-production facility to a local airport, APS said. One foreigner was killed in that attack, and the militants then took over part of the facility and seized hostages, it said. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said the attackers were Algerian “terrorists” and vowed that authorities would not negotiate with them.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said the attack was in retaliation for Algeria’s decision to allow France to use its airspace to send warplanes to neighboring Mali, where French forces have been conducting airstrikes and support operations since last week to aid Malian troops in their battle against Islamist insurgents. “
Algeria’s participation in the war on the side of France betrays the blood of the Algerian martyrs who fell in the fight against the French occupation,” a spokesman for the Masked Brigade, an arm of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, told Mauritania’s Nouakchott News Agency.
Israel says it will go ahead with plans to build 1500 new settler homes in East Jerusalem – the part of the city that’s considered Palestinian land.The project was given an intermediate green light by Israeli officials on Monday. This comes less then a month after the UN granted Palestine non-member observer status. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and are promising to raise the issue at a Security Council meeting. Author and historian Gerald Horne says that with Palestine’s recent upgrade, Israel’s playing a risky game.
In a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in August, head of the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases Fatemeh Hashemi urged Ban to prevent sanction-induced damages to six million Iranian patients suffering from such intractable diseases as thalassemia, hemophilia, kidney conditions, multiple sclerosis (MS), cancer, etc.The letter stated that shortage and increased price of medicine caused by illegal sanctions has directly affected the lives and well-being of millions of patients. Ban said in a subsequent UN report that sanctions were, in fact, taking a toll on humanitarian operations in the country. “Even companies that have obtained the requisite license to import food and medicine are facing difficulties in finding third-country banks to process the transactions,” he wrote. According to the Los Angeles Times, analysts believe that protests over humanitarian effects of US unilateral sanctions against Iran could undermine support for those sanctions among US allies. The paper quoted Iranian academic Ismail Salami as writing last week in the Russian newspaper Pravda that, “The bitter question is: Is the West taking sadistic pleasure in incurring genocidal deaths, or does the West naively believe that they are achieving their fiendish goals in the Muslim country?” At the beginning of 2012, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors with the goal of preventing other countries from purchasing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The sanctions entered into force in early summer 2012. On October 15, the EU foreign ministers reached an agreement on another round of sanctions against Iran. The illegal US-engineered sanctions were imposed based on the unfounded accusation that Iran is pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program. Iran rejects the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of International Atomic Energy Agency, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.