Repercussions Of Crisis In Algeria Could Be Far-Reaching

Algerian security forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert Saturday, bringing to an end a four-day siege by Islamist militants who took dozens of foreigners hostage.

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A four-day hostage crisis at an Algerian oil and gas facility in the Sahara desert came to a violent end yesterday. Algerian security forces stormed the complex, killing scores of Islamist militants. At least 23 hostages died during the siege; many of them foreigners, and officials say the toll is likely to rise.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has our report.

(SOUNDBITE OF A NEWS CLIP AND GUNFIRE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: French television news played footage of the final siege at the plant, taken from an Algerian hostage's cell phone. Throughout the crisis, the Algerian army moved rapidly and forcefully. It kept a tight lid on information, not even informing nations whose citizens were being held hostage that an assault was underway. Harrowing accounts of the drama were told by hostages as they made their way out. Foreigners were bound and forced to wear explosive necklaces. Algerians were let go, says this worker, speaking to French television.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: They told us, we haven't come for you. You're a Muslim brother, he says. We've come to exterminate the others and to teach America what Islam really is.

MOHKTAR BELMOKHTAR: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Mohktar Belmokhtar, speaking in this video, is the leader of the militants who attacked the facility. The desert jihadist, who lost an eye training in Afghanistan before he was even 20, has already been sentenced to death in absentia by Algeria for attacks against the government dating back to the '90s. Known as Mr. Marlboro for his illicit cigarette trading, Belmokhtar is typical of the jihadis who move freely in the huge swath of desert between many African countries with porous borders and little state control.

Arab world specialist Gilles Kepel says the Islamists there live as their ancestors did, but with a foot in the modern world.

GILLES KEPEL ARAB WORLD SPECIALIST: They're also on the Internet. They communicate with the cell phones. And they're able to blend the tradition and the post-modernity, if you want. Plus, they spend their time watching videos of al-Qaida and the Syrian jihad, the Libyan jihad on YouTube. And this is this is what molds their imagination.

BEARDSLEY: France has just gone to war against such jihadis who have taken over the north of Mali. French President Francois Hollande said the Algerian hostage drama reinforces the urgency of the Mali intervention. While Britain, the U.S., and Japan expressed concern over the brutality and secrecy of Algeria's handling of the crisis, Hollande gave his full support.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLAND: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Considering there were so many hostages and such coldly determined terrorists, the Algerians handled it in the best way, said Hollande. There could have been no negotiations.

The world's attention is now focused on the threat posed by Islamist militants in the Sahel, a vast desert region that spans the continent. British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking earlier today.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: This is a stark reminder once again of the threat we face from terrorism the world over. We have had successes in recent years in reducing the threat from some parts of the world, but the threat has grown particularly in North Africa.

BEARDSLEY: Naoufel Brahimi-Elmili is an expert on terrorism with Sciences Po University in Paris.

NAOUFEL BRAHIMI-ELMILI SCIENCE PO UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: When you look at the jihad tour for the last 20 or 30 years, they start in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria.

BEARDSLEY: Now he says another front has opened in the Sahel region of Africa.

For NPR news, I'm Eleanor Beardsley, Paris.

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