In the early hours of 16 January 2013, 32 terrorists attacked two busses transporting foreign workers from the Tigantourine oil and gas plant, near In Amenas, before entering the compound itself and taking approximately 800 local and foreign workers hostage. Three days later, after Algerian military operations and prolonged conflict, the hostage situation ended. The incident concluded with the death of 40 hostages and 29 militants.
The Signed-In-Blood Battalion, led by notorious Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar and with connections to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed to have conducted the attack in retaliation to the French military intervention in northern Mali earlier in the year. However, the multinational presence at the site also suggests that larger grievances may have motivated the attack, such as resentment against foreign nationals and western intervention in the region. Indeed, Algerian authorities rejected any notion of a connection to Mali, claiming that the attack had been planned more than two months ahead of the incident, while French intervention in Mali began only one week before the attack. The attackers’ demands included the release of dozens of Islamists held in Algerian prisons. The group comprised nationals from Canada, Mauritania, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Niger and Algeria.
The Algerian government took a firm stance against the perpetrators, issuing statements which vehemently denounced the organisation, their aims and the methods being employed. The heavy-handed response to the attack, which was viewed by some as an over-zealous and disproportionate reaction, partly aimed to demonstrate the commitment of the Algerian government to fight such acts of violence and lawlessness. Air strikes and ground forces were used to attack the compound. While presenting a zero-tolerance attitude towards such attacks, this response also contributed to the body count of both militants and civilians.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, questions were raised over how the attack could have been prevented. A comprehensive investigation was undertaken by the host companies, including Statoil and BP, into the security protocols of the facility, as well as the responsibilities and actions of both the companies and the government.
The armed response, which aimed to rescue hostages and end the incident, was conducted quickly, fiercely and without full discussions with the national governments of some of the hostages. Therefore, although it was well intended and boded well for proving Algeria’s rejection to terrorist organisations and their goals, the lack of effective or complete communications caused significant concern and will need to be addressed, should such an incident occur again.
On a corporate level, security measures have been reinforced as a result of the attack, with organisations involved in the oil and gas industry being reminded of the critical role of crisis management and mitigation within their organisations. The practice of examining the lessons learned, evaluating corporate and personal security policies, and the necessity of intelligence and risk awareness will be vehemently endorsed.
Both BP and Statoil have reached an agreement with Algerian authorities that will allow them to resume operations within the country. This will come with a demand for greatly improved security facilities, including intelligence and analysis resources, which Statoil admitted were lacking prior to the In Amenas attack. However, the Algerian government will also be expected to collaborate more with foreign governments in the event of such an attack occurring. In addition, it will be expected to create closer ties with its neighbours, in order to share information relating to militant Islamist extremist groups and other threats to businesses in the region.
The relative stability which has returned to Algeria will, no doubt, ensure that extractive industries maintain a presence in the country and in the region as a whole. However, the anniversary of the attack serves as a pertinent reminder to those operating in such environments that appropriate security measures and risk mitigation are essential.