Algeria Gas Facility Attack May Have Been an Inside Job

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: It's been about two weeks since Islamic militants launched an attack in neighboring Algeria. They claimed it was retaliation for the French intervention in Mali. They seized a large gas facility as you recall and took hundreds of local and foreign workers hostage. Algerian government forces immediately launched an offensive against the militants in the ensuing violence some 37 hostages died. The BBC's Richard Galpin went to the site yesterday. He's back in Algiers and he was among the first western journalists to visit the facility since the hostage crisis. Richard, tell us, first of all, what does it look like right now?

Richard Galpin: Well there's still… you can see the evidence of the fighting which took place there. In the accommodation block, the chunks of concrete missing… it's been hit by shrapnel and by heavy caliber weapons. And then, we also went to the main gas compressing facility. And there you could, again, see damage; there's fire damage, which apparently was caused by an explosion, in which a lot of hostages were killed, a bomb deliberately detonated by the militants to kill a group of hostages who'd been chained or strapped to the metal structure there.

Werman: So Richard, some people have been pointing to the possibility of this attack by these militants on the gas plant as being an inside job, a lot of speculation around that. What is the evidence?

Galpin: Well, I mean, I think there's quite a bit of evidence. We spoke to the man who's a general manager actually from the Algerian oil company who was one of the first people to be caught by the militants when they attacked the accommodation block. And he said that they knew there was a VIP area and they got just slightly confused about exactly where it was, and obviously under pressure he had to reveal the location. Another employee from BP, who was also briefly taken hostage but managed to talk his way out because he was Algerian, he also said the same thing to us, saying that they knew exactly where they were going. They clearly had very, very good information. The other thing that people point to, but we're less sure about this, is that there was a meeting of senior executives, some of whom had flown in from abroad for a meeting about extending the plant. So, some people point to this, that perhaps the timing was no coincidence. And there are also reports that the local employees had not been particularly carefully vetted and one person who was employed at the plant was the brother of a leading radical Jihadist, Islamist, who could have had links with the people who carried out the attack.

Werman: Right, all very suspicious but none of it fully confirmed yet, as you pointed out. Now, one thing I think many people who follow the hostage crisis might not realize is just the utter remoteness of this plant. How long did it take you to get there, because I'm looking at a map of Algeria, it looks like from Algiers to Southern Algeria is about New York City to Miami Beach practically.

Galpin: It's a very, very long way. And I think if I remember correctly, the local journalist we'd been workingââ?¬ ¦. with here was saying that it is nearer to fly from Algiers to London than it is to go from Algiers to the far south of the country.

Werman: Wow.

Galpin: So it gives you a size. It is a huge country. It's right in the heart of the Sahara. Very, very remote area. It is sand dunes, it is sand and rock, and that is basically it.

Werman: The BBC's Richard Galpin back in Algiers after having visited the gas facility attacked in south east Algeria last month. Thank you very much for your time.

Galpin: Thank you.