The West is keen to use the Algerian gas plant seige to justify new interventions in a region it once dominated. But the official version of events just doesn’t stack up, writes Ken Olende
Western powers have tried to use the hostage crisis in Algeria to show why they must stop the spread of the Islamist organisation Al Qaida.
Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the attack on the In Amenas gas plant, where hundreds were taken hostage.
They were demanding the release of Islamist prisoners and French withdrawal from Mali.
French president Francois Hollande said that the crisis justifies French intervention in Mali.
But this is based on myths about Al Qaida and the West’s role in the region.
The Financial Times rightly points out that, “Many jihadists self-designate themselves as AQ [Al Qaida].
“But often there is no firm evidence of mutually supportive links.”
Algerian special forces freed around 100 foreign workers and 700 Algerians from the In Amenas plant, which is co-owned by BP.
More than 30 hostage takers and some 60 workers were killed.
It cost the companies
£25 million in lost revenue.
But the size of potential future profits means that they won’t leave the country.
What really happened remains vague. There is no reason to take what we are told at face value by local rulers or imperial powers.
The violence in Algeria comes out of the brutality of its history.
More than a million people died as France’s rulers waged a war to hold onto their colony after the Second World War.
In the 1990s the authorities annulled a general election because the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF), a moderate coalition of Islamist groups, won it.
This sparked a civil war in which 200,000 died.
The ISF built its support partly on opposition to the Gulf War that began in 1991.
It led enormous demonstrations on economic issues and called a general strike.
The government defeated the Islamists at an enormous cost to its reputation. It then approached the US to rearm and help remove international sanctions.
George Bush was happy to have allies in the “war on terror” after 9/11—particularly with a government that had a proven record on suppressing Islamism.
But Jeremy Keenan, from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London disagrees with this official view of the government.
He has pointed to links between AQIM and Algerian intelligence (DRS).
He argues that such the In Amenas attack would have been hard to organise without support from the state.
John Schindler, a former high-ranking US intelligence officer claims that the DRS created many Islamist forces in the civil war.
He said, “Much of [the] leadership consisted of DRS agents, who drove the group into the dead end of mass murder, a ruthless tactic that thoroughly discredited… Islamists among nearly all Algerians.”