October 17, 2013:
The 32 AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) terrorists who attacked an Algerian natural gas facility (at Amenas) on January 16th initially succeeded because of inadequate security measures by the Algerian government. That’s the conclusion of a study of the incident by one of the two foreign companies (Statoil) that operates the facility. The Algerian government is saying little about the raid, much less the inability of the government to detect the raiders or prevent the attack.
The initial government investigation into the terrorist attack on Amenas did admit the operation was made possible by poor security procedures at the natural gas facility. The government later said those deficiencies were being fixed and more armed guards and better physical defenses and local intelligence collecting procedures were being implemented. No details of these new measures have been revealed, but that’s to be expected, because you don’t want potential attackers to know exactly what to expect. There is some more visible security at the facility, but what made the January attack possible was the failure of Algerian intelligence and “outer security” (surveillance, patrols, and checkpoints around the remote facility). Other Middle Eastern nations have taken more effective security measures and the effectiveness of those efforts has been tested. Saudi Arabia has detected several major attacks, while the terrorists were still planning and organizing. In one major attack that was not detected, attackers headed for the largest Saudi refinery were stopped at the gates. At Amenas the attackers not only got to the gates but quickly shot their way through.
In Algeria the poor security was the result of decades of local Islamic terrorists not attacking Algerian oil and gas facilities because so many Algerians depended on the oil and gas revenue to survive. Thus, a terrorist attack on these facilities would be very unpopular and hurt the terrorists, and local terrorists observed this unwritten rule. But the January attack involved only one Algerian. Most of the attackers did not care what the Algerian people thought.
The Amenas attack involved thirty-two men, one of whom used to work at the facility. Thus the terrorists knew the internal layout and routines. Some eight-hundred people worked (and most lived) at the facility. The terrorists concentrated on capturing one-hundred and thirty-two foreign workers (thirty-nine of whom died, plus one security guard) but most workers escaped. The terrorists failed (largely through incompetence) in blowing up the facility and twenty-nine of them were killed when the Algerian military moved in on the 17th. Fighting was over by the 21st, but most of the violence occurred on the 18th and 19th. Three of the terrorists were captured, making it possible to obtain details of how the attack was planned and carried out.
Several foreign countries offered to help Algeria improve its oil and gas facility security but it’s unclear how much of that assistance was accepted. Production was resumed on February 22nd but has not returned to normal. That is expected to happen before the end of the year because the foreign companies that supply technical personnel and special services for the facility have agreed that the new security measures are adequate and have allowed their personnel (all non-Algerian) to return.