THE SAVAGE and terrible events in Algeria over the past week are a sombre and terrifying reminder to us all of the dangers posed by militants bent on creating mayhem. More than 80 people have died, both hostages and Islamist fighters who assaulted the BP Gas plant in the Algerian desert, murdering some captives in cold blood, in what was the worst international hostage crisis for decades.
Other hostages died when Algerian helicopters gunships attacked a convoy of vehicles containing both captives and captors trying to spirit them out of the gas plant and others lost their lives when Algerian special forces assaulted the gas plant in the final hours of the siege.
While the initial reaction was that the Algerians should have consulted the countries with nationals held captive, the Algerians responded that they were reacting to fast-moving events on the ground and had no time to talk.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a televised statement: ' Of course people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched this vicious and cowardly attack. We should recognise all that the Algerians have done to work with us and to help and coordinate with us. I'd like to thank them for that. We should also recognise that the Algerians too have seen lives lost among their soldiers.
His comments were echoed by French President Francois Holland who said: ' We don't have all the details yet but when you have people taken hostage in such large number by terrorists with such cold determination and ready to kill those hostages - as they did - Algeria has an approach which to me, as I see it, is the most appropriate because there could be no negotiation.'
One-eyed veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility on Sunday for the attack on behalf of al Qaeda. They demanded an end to French air strikes against Islamist fighters in neighboring Mali that had begun five days earlier. However, U.S. and European officials doubt such a complex raid could have been organised quickly enough to have been conceived as a direct response to the French military intervention.
Among foreigners confirmed dead by their home countries were three Britons, one American and two Romanians. The missing include at least 10 Japanese, five Norwegians, three other Britons, and a British resident. Up to 48 foreigners are believed to have died in the siege. Chilling accounts have emerged of the Islamists luring captives from hiding places with promises that they would not be harmed only to be shot by the heavily-armed fighters. One of the survivors told how a group of Japanese workers were 'executed' as he hid in a next door room.
We may think we are disconnected from events in Mali, where the French and now African nations are battling Islamist insurgents, and similarly in Algeria, but we are not. North Africa is a relatively short distance from Europe and anything that can be done to prevent the militants from extending their sinister influence should be done.