Terrorist attack in Algeria - details still sketchy

Investigations into the Algerian gas facility siege continue as nations bury their dead.

Details continued to emerge, several weeks after the siege of the In Amenas gas facility, but the intentions of the militants in capturing the plant, jointly owned by BP, Statoil and Sonatrach still remain confused. In the meantime, several countries have buried their victims of the attack, in which 37 non-Algerian hostages are believed to have died along with one Algerian worker and 29 attackers.

In Amenas

In Amenas site under construction Image: Kjetil Alsvik / Statoil

According to Algerian authorities, the militants came from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and possibly led by a Canadian. They attacked the facility in the early hours of the morning of 16 January beginning a siege which lasted four days before the Algerian army finally raided the site.

Top executives based on-site at the time included Statoil's country manager in Algeria; a senior London-based executive from BP; the top adviser and former vice president of JGC; and all three senior on-site managers for the operators.

BP confirmed the death of three of its senior employees, while Statoil revealed it had lost five senior staff. In its statement, Statoil said:"Five friends and colleagues who were going about their work for Statoil will never return to their loved ones. They represented the very best of our company."

The inability of the militants to reverse the the plant's emergency shutdown themselves, or force staff to do, meant the flow of gas was not restarted.  This appeared to frustrate and confused the militants' ringleader, Mohamed Lamine Bencheneb, who died in the attack, survivors said.

The Algerian authorities have also focused investigations on unskilled employees, particularly, although not exclusively, around 100 local drivers employed at the gas plant. A former driver from the facility had accompanied the militants, according to Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.

Although no Algerian officials have suggested a link between a strike held six months previously and the attack, the strike appears to have highlighted a tension between the plant and the locals, many of whom feel they don't benefit financially from the natural wealth of their region.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said as well as the 29 militants who died during the army assault, three had also been captured alive. Five hostages remain unaccounted for and may have escaped to become lost in the desert.