Algerian special forces on Saturday stormed a natural gas complex in Ain Amenas in the Sahara desert to end the four-day seizure of the facility by Islamic militants who took many workers of various nationalities hostages. Among those taken hostages were employees of JGC Corp., a Yokohama-based major company specializing in the construction of oil refineries and liquefied natural gas facilities. Although the Algerian government announced that the Algerian forces liberated 107 foreign hostages and 685 Algerian hostages, it also announced that 23 hostages and 32 militants were killed during the assault. It is regrettable that the assault resulted in the death of many hostages. A report says 12 Japanese have been confirmed among the dead.
Algeria did not give a prior notice about the assault to the governments of countries whose nationals were being held hostage. Some of these governments, including Japan, have complained that they have been kept uninformed about the Algerian government’s plans. Even before Saturday’s assault, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had described earlier actions by Algerian forces as “regrettable,” suggesting Japan’s dissatisfaction with how Algeria was handling the crisis.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to cut short his trip to Southeast Asia to return to Tokyo to deal with the crisis. The United States and Britain proposed dispatching special forces to Algeria, but the Algerian government rejected the offer. Given the outcome, one cannot help but question whether the assault was carried out too hastily and whether the Algerian government had paid enough consideration to the lives of the hostages.
At the very least, Algeria should disclose the details of its operation — including why it decided to launch the assault on Saturday and why it carried it out unilaterally without close communication and cooperation with other countries.
It seems that the Algerian government placed priority on the elimination of the Islamic militants and to the restoration of security and order in the country. It may have feared that the civil war in neighboring Mali could cause similar unrest in Algeria. In the 1990s, the Algerian government and Islamic extremists engaged in a civil war, with the number of victims totaling more than 100,000. The desert regions in and around Algeria have fallen into a state of anarchy and armed terrorist groups roam freely. Arms that flowed into Libya during its civil war last year were reportedly taken to such countries as Algeria and Mali.
The events in Algeria hold vital lessons for Japan. Japanese citizens, who are used to living in an insular country, should not take their safety abroad for granted. There are many dangerous places in the world. In such places, kidnappings, hostage situations, armed conflicts and other dangerous acts and events may transpire. Japanese businesses that have employees stationed abroad and Japanese government missions abroad should bolster their intelligence capacities to enable them to gather the most accurate and timely information possible on the areas concerned and establish effective emergency management frameworks.
Governments and international organizations should make concerted efforts to eliminate the poverty, political oppression and religious fanaticism that fuels acts of terrorism.