David Cameron has postponed his speech on the European Union because of the hostage situation in Algeria where a standoff has been taking place in a gas plant in the Sahara Desert. There are conflicting reports, but it seems about 300 Algerian and 40 international hostages were taken and several have been killed in a rescue attempt. The PM has suggested that worse news will follow saying:-
‘We should be prepared for the possibility of further bad news in this very dangerous fluid situation.’
No10 said earlier that Cameron had not been informed about the Algerian rescue attempt before it began and has told his Algerian counterpart that he wishes he had been “contacted in advance”. The Japanese government has asked the Algerians to desist. The siege appears to have been led by an al-Qaeda splinter group, claiming to have come from Mali, whose leader is reported to have been killed – but no details have been confirmed.
The gas plant is in the town of In Amenas, some 700 miles from the Malian border and is a joint venture between BP, Norway’s Statoil and the Algerian government. Some analysts speculate that an attack in such an unlikely location (it’s closer to Libya than Mali) would be have been pre-planned and may indicated a strategy of replying to the French attack by moving on Western interests in countries such as Libya, Nigeria and Morocco.
We will bring you more details as they emerge.
Meanwhile, here are the reactions from Westminster:-
PM has made entirely the right decision to postpone speech in light of Algerian hostage crisis.
— Dr Liam Fox MP (@LiamFoxMP) January 17, 2013
PM right to put off EU speech, but another example of how often in all governments urgent events can postpone important strategic thinking
— Peter Luff MP (@PeterJLuff) January 17, 2013
More to follow…