The bloody siege at Amenas in Algeria is over, and five alleged kidnappers have been taken alive. I believe that the Algerian authorities have a "robust" approach to prisoner rights, and right now the kidnappers are likely wishing they'd been shot instead. Anyway, the dust is settling on the action with 23+ hostages and around 30 kidnappers dead. What was this all about, and what does it forecast of future terrorist activity in the Maghreb?
The siege was clearly targeted at Western governments; reports seem consistent that the kidnappers left the Algerian staff more or less alone and concentrated on the Western staff as hostages. What gives a little more colour to that view, though, comes from blogger Wretchard writing about Filipino engineer and hostage Ruben Andrada:
With detcord wrapped around his neck and caught in the gunbattle between the Masked Brigade and Algerian forces, he regarded his chances of survival as doubtful. Andrada retreated into that classic Filipino attitude: "bahala na". He thought 'leave it to God' as bullets kicked up the ground around him.It's odd that a Filipino would be regarded as Western - except, of course, it's not the "country of nationality" that the hostage takers care about. Filipinos are predominantly Christian - 90% of the population, and most of those are Catholic. The kidnappers weren't targeting "Westerners", they were targeting "non-Muslims".
The assault itself was the classic Russian model - go in, slaughter the bad guys, try not to kill hostages if you can help it, but never mind if some of them get hit. Taking prisoners is strictly optional, which is why I was surprised that five kidnappers appear to have survived - I wonder if this group was based away from the gas plant as a support/escape element and was detected and ambushed by the Algerian forces suddenly enough that fighting wasn't really an option. There will be any amount of explicit and implicit blame placed on the Algerian forces in the next few weeks, but really they did exactly as they were supposed to. Algeria doesn't want attacks like this to happen, especially not around its revenue-producing gas plants. It wants to make plain to any attackers that no deals are made, that Algeria won't hesitate to go in shooting, and that holding hostages won't really slow down any attack. From now on, any Western kidnapping in Algeria will likely be by really badly-informed small-scale terrorist / criminal groups (and therefore relatively easy to manage). Jihadi attacks will be aiming to shoot-and-scoot or suicide-bomb, not hold hostages and hang around. Both of these situations are much easier to manage than a hostage siege, and generally less expensive in destruction to industrial facilities.
It will be interesting to see where the next hostage-taking occurs. I'm assuming Mali is now quite a hard target as Westerners are alerted to danger. I wonder if Morocco and Tunisia will be the next target, or perhaps further afield in Nigeria if Boko Haram can be persuaded to up their current game of blowing up churches, providing logistical support for better-trained and more determined jihadi from the Maghreb.