By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 16 January 2013:
Security is reported to be under review at Libyan oilfields following the attack early this morning, Wednesday, by Islamists on an oilfield just across the border in Algeria.
According to the Algerian News Agency, terrorists attacked oil workers at the Algeria state oil company Sonatrach’s base at In Amenas some 100 kilometres west the Libyan border at around 5am. The oifield, a joint venture with Britain’s BP and Norway’s Statoil, is about 400 kilometres south of Ghadames where on Saturday Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and Algerian Prime Minister Abdulmalik Sellal along with their Tunisian counterpart, Hamadi Jebali, agreed a series of measures to improve border zone security.
Two people died in the attack although there are conflicting reports as to their nationalities as well as to the number of hostages seized by the gunmen. Americans, Britons, Japanese, Norwegians and French as well as Algerians are said to have been taken.
The attack has been linked by many observers to the French military action against Islamist forces in Algeria’s neighbour, Mali. However, an Islamist group claiming responsibility for the attack, told a new agency in Mauretania that it was an act of revenge against Algeria — although it has since released Algerians captured, keeping only the Westerners. The Algerian Interior Minister, Daho Ould Kabilia, has also said that the gunmen “came neither from Mali, nor from Libya, or any other neighbouring country.” The implication is that the gunmen are Algerian, but the attack could still be linked to events in Mali.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, who has made border security a major plank of his policies, was clearly concerned about the attack at the weekly government press conference this late this afternoon. “We are serious in protecting our petroleum installations”, he said when asked about the safety of oil workers in Libya. “God willing, no oil workers will be abducted. . . If oil workers are abducted — we cannot rule it out — we will deal with it,” he said.
Although the Algerian oil minister has said that the militants are from neither Libya nor Mali, there are continuing concerns about the smuggling of weapons from Libya to elsewhere as well as growing fears that the latest development in the Mali conflict could impact on Libya.
On Saturday, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said that he was worried that “Tunisia is becoming a corridor [for arms smuggling] between Libya and Mali.”
“Libya has to be worried about this,” said one Western diplomat in Tripoli about today’s attack. “It is just a few kilometres from the border in an area where there is no actual border.” Libyan oilfields are nearby, he pointed out. Terrorists might attack them too.