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PARIS/algiers: Hardened by its decades-old struggle with Islamists, Algeria’s paramount concern in launching its deadly mission against Al Qaeda-linked hostage-takers was to crush them, not to save lives, analysts said.
The aim of the Algerian military is “above all to neutralise terrorists, while for us the priority is to save the lives of hostages,” said Frederic Gallois, a former boss of French police elite counter-terrorism unit GIGN. “Their second objective is to pull the rug from under the feet of Islamist propaganda. They don’t want it lasting a week,” he said. “The concerns of Western governments would be very secondary in the decision-making process about tackling Islamists,” said Jon Marks, of the Chatham House think-tank in London.
The raid on the sprawling In Amenas desert complex was unprecedented, he said, noting that not even during Algeria’s long war with Islamists in the 1990s- that left more than 100,000 dead- did extremists manage to launch such a brazen attack on a major hydrocarbon facility. “As such I think it was a humiliation to the Algerians and to the military,” which is central to the idea of the state, he said.
Marks added that given Algeria’s long history of battling Islamists, it was not surprising the authorities there placed security concerns above the safety of the hostages, as would be the case in the West.
Britain, Japan and the United States, “may well be angry, but it is better for them to be angry than for there to be more victims, more abductions,” said Majed Nehme, director of the monthly current affaris magazine Afrique Asie. “The Algerian doctrine is that they never negotiate with hostage-takers,” said Majed.
“The hostage-takers were asking to take the hostages out (of the site) where they would have become bargaining chips, so they (the army) preferred to resolve the problem militarily,” he said.