January 17, 2013 – Governments from around the world were holding meetings as one of the world’s biggest hostage crisis’ in many decades was taking place in the Sahara. Islamist gunmen are holding dozen of hostages from the West along with many Algerians deep in the desert at a gas plant. On Thursday, some of the hostages spoke to the media warning them that they would be killed if authorities stormed the site.
The emergency meetings being held in many countries shows how the hostage crisis has raised the stakes in the week old French campaign against fighters linked to al-Qaeda in nearby Mali.
Islamists, who call themselves Battalion of Blood, said they seized 41 foreigners including Europeans, Japanese and Americans after they stormed the employee barracks of a natural gas station in Algeria prior to dawn on Wednesday.
The group demanded an end to the military campaign by the French in Mali, where hundreds of marines and paratroopers from France have launched ground attacks against the rebels in a weeklong campaign that started with air strikes.
Troops from Algeria have surrounded the gas pumping station in the Sahara desert. A hostage, who was unidentified, spoke to French television saying the prisoners were forced to put on explosive belts. The captors are said to be heavily armed and threatened to blow the pumping station up if they were stormed by the Algerian army.
Another one of the hostages, said to be British, spoke on Al Jazeera television and said the Algerian army must withdraw its troops to avoid any casualties. He said the kidnappers were treating them well. The hostage also said about 150 of the hostages were Algerian.
Algerian authorities said the Islamist group is led by a former guerrilla fighter who took part in fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s and has recently formed a group that is based in the Sahara after becoming upset with other al-Qaeda leaders in the area.