Kidnapping in the desert

The worrying firepower that militants in Algeria have at their disposal

January 18, 2013
January 18, 2013

Algerian forces face an exceedingly well-armed enemy in the militants who have taken hundreds of hostages in the Saharan Desert, experts say. Hostages who have escaped or been freed from the natural gas compound have described being strapped with explosives, and witnessing foreign hostages being executed.

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told me that the militants “are armed to the teeth.” They obtained the weapons from Libya, where dictator Moamar Gadhafi used them to fight against the opposition that eventually overthrew him in 2011.

Their arms, according to Hoffman, include shoulder-fired missiles known as MANPADs, heavy machine guns, AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives—“everything they could carry away from Gadhafi’s arsensal.” “At least they don’t have tanks or artillery,” he said.

That spells trouble for the future, since presumably the militants did not bring everything they have to the one mission. Can Algeria’s military protect every oil and gasfield—and every other potential soft target—in the country? The rest of the region also has oilfields and mining operations—Guinea, Cote d’Ivory, for instance. “Short of a state’s military (not even police) forces, I am not sure how hardened potential targets can be,” Hoffman said.

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