(WASHINGTON) — The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that before the deadly Algerian hostage crisis, the U.S. had several reports that “something big” was coming against a Western target — but did not have the details the government needed to prevent it.
“Just like the Benghazi event, we had lots of threat streams…There are reports coming in from all different types of sources saying, ‘Something big is going to happen,'” Rep. Mike Rogers (R.-Mich.) told ABC News on Sunday. “We didn’t know for sure, for certain it would be this particular place under those circumstances, but we knew that they were trying to find a…Western target, which this clearly was.”
Roger’s comments came a day after the Algerian military forced a bloody end to the four-day hostage crisis at a BP joint-venture facility in the Sahara on Saturday. Nearly all the terrorists and at least 23 hostages were killed, including one American. Several Americans managed to escape the facility alive, but the fate of two others remains unknown.
Late Sunday, a video emerged that was reportedly shot during the crisis in which the leader of the terrorists, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed the “blessed” hostage taking as a victory for al Qaeda and said it was done to force the West to abandon the recent French-led military intervention in Mali. The group also previously demanded that the U.S. release Omar Abdel-Rahman, the man who planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Before the Algerian counter-attack, one of the hostage-takers, Abdel Rahman el-Nigeri, reportedly singled out the Americans at the facility for “slaughter” should the terrorists not get what they wanted.
“The Americans that are here, we will kill them,” el-Nigeri said, according to an audio tape aired on Algeria’s Ennahar TV. “We will slaughter them.”
Survivors said the attackers focused on Americans and other foreigners, and one of the captors spoke excellent English. Many of the terrorists were dressed as security guards, making the decision to run for it difficult.
“When you don’t know what’s out there,” said survivor Alan Wright, “and we know that the terrorists are dressed the same as the security forces, that was a huge decision. Do you stay or do you go?”
“For our people in Algeria, for their family and friends, this has been and continues to be a distressing and horrific time,” said BP chief executive Bob Dudley.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Belmokhtar’s group reportedly told London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Alawsat that despite the terrorists killed and no public concession concerning Mali, he considered the operation “successful by all standards.”
Successful or not, Rogers said the incident was evidence of a real national security threat that has emerged from al Qaeda in North Africa.
“Clearly this is a growing threat in the region. They feel emboldened,” he said, citing the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. “It can’t just be Algeria. It has to be the whole northern Africa region and it needs to be a cohesive policy that is well-coordinated that covers all the different problems that we’re finding in northern Africa… It really is naive to believe this isn’t getting worse.”
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