Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Blog

All eyes have been on Algeria as the hostage crisis unfolded last week at a remote BP gas facility in Algeria’s southern town of In Aménas, leaving at least 37 hostages dead, including 3 Americans. The attack was conducted by an international group of Islamist militants from Algeria, Tunisia, Canada, Egypt, Niger, Mauritania, and Mali. 29 militants were killed during rescue efforts by the Algerian military.

For the first time since the crisis began, Algeria’s Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal spoke out on Monday defending the country’s tough response to end the four-day siege and praised “the decision by Algerian special forces to storm the site,” adding that “the aim of the kidnappers was to ‘blow up the gas plant.’” The Algerian government argued that the loss of innocent lives was unavoidable in the situation. According to Sellal, it was al-Qaeda’s mastermind, Mohammed Lamin Bin Shanab who led the operation to kidnap non-Muslims at the facility. Though Bin Shanab was one of the 29 militants killed, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is far from defeated. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who headed the militant brigade but was not present during the attack said, “we in al-Qaeda announce this blessed operation," making it clear that the organization’s struggle to defeat the West is far from over.

As the Algerian government attempts to gather more intelligence on the siege, scholars and politicians around the world are attempting to shed light on the event. Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to claim that the crisis was a direct result of US and NATO involvement in the region, suggesting that the US and its allies have sacrificed stability in the region for political gain. Putin argued that the strengthening of radical Islamist branches in the region and the conflicts in Syria and Libya are what led to the hostage crisis. In a Kremlin ceremony for new foreign ambassadors, he said that it was "the tragic consequences of these events that led to a terrorist attack in Algeria which took the lives of civilians, including foreigners."

While Putin has an agenda of his own in the region, he is right to assert that the Algerian hostage crisis is not an isolated event, but instead the result of a continued fight for power. With recent power vacuums throughout North Africa and increased foreign military presence, Islamic militants are violently claiming greater grounds while demanding the punishment of foreigners in the region. Belmokhtar has articulated the ongoing need to struggle against “disbelief,” or in other words, the West. While the US and its NATO allies attempt to influence power shifts in the region and reestablish their domineering presence, AQIM and other militant organizations insist on fighting back.

More than anything, the In Aménas attack highlights the importance of reassessing Western foreign policy agendas in the region as the threat of Saharan terrorism continues to rise. Despite the sweeping movements to promote freedom and justice in the region, radical organizations including al-Qaeda’s North African branch have gained traction. Moderate political Islam is on the decline as hardline Islamist political parties have claimed victories in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. Further south, Malian and Mauritanian forces have fought more aggressively to regain control of Islamist-held areas within their borders. But one thing remains the same; the West’s popularity in the region continues to plummet.

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