All Arab newspapers lead Thursday off with coverage of the ongoing hostage crisis in southeast Algeria. On Wednesday afternoon, information began streaming out that an al-Qaeda-affiliated Algerian group called Al-Mulathameen stormed the British Petroleum-owned Amenas natural gas field near the Libyan border and kidnapped up to 41 people, including seven Americans, in response to France’s assault on Islamist forces in northern Mali.
The London-based daily Al-Hayat reports that the kidnappers “are demanding a halt to all French military operations against Islamist fighters in northern Mali” and the release of 100 members of their group currently languishing in Algerian prisons.
In its lead article, ”Algeria refuses to negotiate with kidnappers of foreign hostages,” Algerian officials rule out the possibility of “negotiating with terrorists.” Meanwhile, the gas facility where the hostages are still being held is now surrounded by the Algerian military, which is seeking a safe way to evacuate them.
That may be all but impossible, however, according to a competing story in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, which is also based in London. The paper reports that the al-Qaeda-inspired attackers, who are believed to number roughly 20, are wearing suicide belts, which they might detonate if the standoff with the military deteriorates.
The situation has forced some leading Algerian politicians to defend their government’s support for the French military operation. In an interview with the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the secretary-general of the National Liberation Front (FLN) and a personal representative of Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said: “There are many things that scare us [about the French operation in Mali], but at the same time we have a duty to maintain the territorial integrity of Mali. People in the country’s north and south must be given their rights.”
‘There are many things that scare us [about the French operation in Mali], but at the same time we have a duty to maintain the territorial integrity of Mali’
Still, some thinkers in the Arab world are looking at the international community’s support of the French intervention in Mali and wondering why more is not being done for Syria. In an op-ed published in the Saudi-owned but Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, Hussein Darwish says that “the rapid developments in Mali raises a question of serious double standards.
“The decision [to intervene in Mali] is being readily enforced, while the international community still merely watches the situation in Syria,” he continues. “No one intervenes. . . even though more than 60,000 people are dead, 200,000 people are imprisoned, 100,000 are missing, and 4 million people are homeless. . . The international community looks at these humanitarian issues and postpones solutions, despite its strength and ability to do so.”
Iraq lit ablaze amid calls to overthrow Maliki
Iraq’s security situation continues to deteriorate as its citizens try to recover from a wave of deadly suicide bombings, prompting stronger calls for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to give up power.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi reports that at least 33 people were killed and 250 were wounded in various attacks throughout the country, including two car bombings in the Kurdish-controlled north and a roadside bomb attack slightly north of Baghdad.
Although Maliki denounced the attacks and demanded that all political parties “renounce strife and close ranks,” calls for his resignation are growing louder. Iraq has grown increasingly tense over the past past few weeks, since the start of demonstrations and sit-ins in Sunni-dominated cities in the country’s north and west of Baghdad.
Hundreds of Iraqis in Sanaa turned out to protest the embattled leader at the Iraqi embassy in the Yemeni capital. Protesters reportedly cried out that Iraq was being targeted by “acts of terror carried out by those hired by foreigners,” and demanded an end to “Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.” A frequent criticism of Maliki has been that he caters too much to the interests of neighboring Iran, with which Iraq has had a tumultuous history.