Americans are definitely in the group of BP employees being held hostage in Algeria by an Islamist group according to State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland, although she would not discuss numbers. Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, ABCNews reports that a senior intelligence official told them that there are at least three Americans being held among 41 hostages, but the numbers are not certain.
The gas field in Algeria where the deadly attack occurred is jointly owned by BP, a Norwegian company Statoil, and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach. A Japanese company, JGC Corp, also has a presence at the site. An official at BP told ABC News "that there are approximately 700 local staff and contractors at the facility and 20 international BP staff and contractors at the In Amenas gas field in eastern central Libya."
The attack, reportedly in retaliation for Algeria allowing France to use their airspace in its maneuvers against Mali, left 2 people dead, including one British citizen. ABC News reports:
The news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) said it had received a telephone call from a person or persons who described themselves as hostage takers, and said, "We are members of al-Qaeda and we came from northern Mali. We belong to the Khaled Abul Abbas Brigade led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar."
The group — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — phoned a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation at the Ain Amenas gas field, located 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of Algiers, the Algerian capital.
CNN reports that the numbers are still uncertain and that the United States is first seeking to understand what is going on. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, has already called the attack a "terrorist attack." An official talked to CNN:
"The first priority is to gain understanding of what is happening," a senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the matter said. "We are working on ways to improve that now."
The official added that a Special Operations team -- the Commanders In extremis Force -- "is on a very short string." In addition, he said, "other nations are similarly assessing their response posture."
During the election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney mentioned growing problems in Mali and received a lot of ridicule for his remarks. You can read here about how he was spot on long before anyone else was discussing the problem.
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