Sunday, January 20, 2013

Algeria: 32 Militants Killed, With 23 Hostages

(ALGIERS, Algeria) — In a bloody finale, Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end a standoff with Islamist extremists that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved, the Algerian government said.

With few details emerging from the remote site in eastern Algeria, it was unclear whether anyone was rescued in the final operation, but the number of hostages killed on Saturday — seven — was how many the militants had said that morning they still had. The government described the toll as provisional and some foreigners remained unaccounted for.

The siege at Ain Amenas transfixed the world after radical Islamists linked to al-Qaida stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world, then held them hostage surrounded by the Algerian military and its attack helicopters for four tense days that were punctuated with gun battles and dramatic tales of escape.

(MORE: Algeria’s Hostage Crisis: What Was Behind a Militant Leader’s Plot?)

Algeria’s response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation — first on Thursday, then on Saturday.

“To avoid a bloody turn of events in response to the extreme danger of the situation, the army’s special forces launched an intervention with efficiency and professionalism to neutralize the terrorist groups that were first trying to flee with the hostages and then blow up the gas facilities,” Algeria’s Interior Ministry said in a statement about the standoff.

Immediately after the assault, French President Francois Hollande gave his backing to Algeria’s tough tactics, saying they were “the most adapted response to the crisis.”

“There could be no negotiations” with terrorists, the French media quoted him as saying in the central French city of Tulle.

Hollande said the hostages were “shamefully murdered” by their captors, and he linked the event to France’s military operation against al-Qaida-backed rebels in neighboring Mali. “If there was any need to justify our action against terrorism, we would have here, again, an additional argument,” he said.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning the militants’ terrorist attack and said all perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of such “reprehensible acts” must be brought to justice.

In the final assault, the remaining band of militants killed the hostages before 11 of them were in turn cut down by the special forces, Algeria’s state news agency said. The military launched its Saturday assault to prevent a fire started by the extremists from engulfing the complex and blowing it up, the report added.

A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the four-day standoff, the ministry statement said, adding that the group of militants that attacked the remote Saharan natural gas complex consisted of 32 men of various nationalities, including three Algerians and explosives experts.

(MORE: Westerners Kidnapped in North Africa — but Is France the Real Target?)

The military also said it confiscated heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company running the Ain Amenas site along with BP and Norway’s Statoil, said the entire refinery had been mined with explosives, and that the process of clearing it out is now under way.

Algeria has fought its own Islamist rebellion since the 1990s, elements of which later declared allegiance to al-Qaida and then set up new groups in the poorly patrolled wastes of the Sahara along the borders of Niger, Mali, Algeria and Libya, where they flourished.

The standoff has put the spotlight on these al-Qaida-linked groups that roam these remote areas, threatening vital infrastructure and energy interests.

The militants initially said their operation was intended to stop a French attack on Islamist militants in neighboring Mali — though they later said it was two months in the planning, long before the French intervention.

The militants, who came from a Mali-based al-Qaida splinter group run by an Algerian, attacked the plant Wednesday morning. Armed with heavy machine guns and rocket launchers in four-wheel drive vehicles, they fell on a pair of buses taking foreign workers to the airport. The buses’ military escort drove off the attackers in a blaze of gunfire that sent bullets zinging over the heads of crouching workers. A Briton and an Algerian — probably a security guard — were killed.

The militants then turned to the vast gas complex, divided between the workers’ living quarters and the refinery itself, and seized hostages, the Algerian government said. The gas flowing to the site was cut off.

Saturday’s government statement said the militants came across the border from “neighboring countries,” while the militants said they came from Niger, hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the south.

On Thursday, Algerian helicopters kicked off the military’s first assault on the complex by opening fire on a convoy carrying both kidnappers and their hostages to stop them from escaping, resulting in many deaths, according to witnesses.

The accounts of hostages who escaped the standoff showed they faced dangers from both the kidnappers and the military.

Ruben Andrada, 49, a Filipino civil engineer who works as one of the project management staff for the Japanese company JGC Corp., described how he and his colleagues were used as human shields by the kidnappers, which did little to deter the Algerian military.

On Thursday, about 35 hostages guarded by 15 militants were loaded into seven SUVs in a convoy to move them from the housing complex to the refinery, Andrada said. The militants placed “an explosive cord” around their necks and were told it would detonate if they tried to run away, he said.

(MORE: Mali’s Looming War: Will Military Intervention Drive Out the Islamists?)

“When we left the compound, there was shooting all around,” Andrada said, as Algerian helicopters attacked with guns and missiles. “I closed my eyes. We were going around in the desert. To me, I left it all to fate.”

Andrada’s vehicle overturned allowing him and a few others to escape. He sustained cuts and bruises and was grazed by a bullet on his right elbow. He later saw the blasted remains of other vehicles, and the severed leg of one of the gunmen.

The site of the gas plant spreads out over several hectares (acres) and includes a housing complex and the processing site, about a mile (1.6 kilometers) apart, making it especially complicated for the Algerians to secure the site and likely contributed to the lengthy standoff.

“It’s a big and complex site. It’s a huge place with a lot of people there and a lot of hiding places for hostages and terrorists,” said Col. Richard Kemp, a retired commander of British forces who had dealt with hostage rescues in Iraq and Afghanistan. “These are experienced terrorists holding the hostages.”

While the Algerian government has only admitted to 23 hostages dead so far, the militants claimed through the Mauritanian news website ANI that the helicopter attack alone killed 35 hostages.

One American, a Texan — Frederick Buttaccio from the Houston suburb of Katy — is among the dead.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday that a Frenchman killed, Yann Desjeux, was a former member of the French special forces and part of the security team. The remaining three French nationals who were at the plant are now free, the Foreign Ministry said.
The British government said Saturday it is trying to determine the fate of six people from Britain who are either dead or unaccounted for.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said, “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way. Our determination is stronger than ever to work with allies right around the world to root out and defeat this terrorist scourge and those who encourage it.”

The Norwegian government said there were five Norwegians unaccounted for.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said Saturday one Romanian hostage was killed in the course of the siege, while the Malaysian government said two of its citizens were still missing.

(MORE: What Mali’s Crisis Means for the Future of Western Military Intervention)

The attack by the Masked Brigade, founded by Algerian militant Moktar Belmoktar, had been in the works for two months, a member of the brigade told the ANI news outlet. He said militants targeted Algeria because they expected the country to support the international effort to root out extremists in neighboring Mali and it was carried out by a special commando unit, “Those Who Signed in Blood,” tasked with attacking nations supporting intervention in Mali.

The kidnappers focused on the foreign workers, largely leaving alone the hundreds of Algerian workers who were briefly held hostage before being released or escaping.

Several of them arrived haggard-looking on a late-night flight into Algiers on Friday and described how the militants stormed the living quarters and immediately separated out the foreigners.

Mohamed, a 37-year-old nurse who like the others wouldn’t allow his last name to be used for fear of trouble for himself or his family, said at least five people were shot to death, their bodies still in front of the infirmary when he left Thursday night.

Chabane, an Algerian who worked in food services, said he bolted out the window and was hiding when he heard the militants speaking among themselves with Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian accents. At one point, he said, they caught a Briton.

“They threatened him until he called out in English to his friends, telling them, ‘Come out, come out. They’re not going to kill you. They’re looking for the Americans,’” Chabane said.

“A few minutes later, they blew him away.”

January 19th, 2013
08:01 AM ET

Memo to the President: The GPS Road Map for a 2nd Term debuts Sunday, Jan. 13, at 8:00pm ET & PT

In advance of President Obama's second inauguration, CNN's and TIME's Fareed Zakariawill host a primetime special with advice for Mr. Obama on the foreign and domestic challenges that yet await him, from top statesmen and women of our time who have served this president and others.
Memo to the President: The GPS Road Map for a 2nd Term - A Fareed Zakaria GPS Special debuts Sunday, Jan. 13 at 8:00pm and 11:00pm ET & PT on CNN/U.S.
Offering counsel to President Obama for a successful legacy in the areas of fiscal management, immigration, foreign policy, trade, investments and more, from their own experience advising the most elite office of power in the world, are:
  • James Baker III, Chief of Staff to President Ronald Reagan (1981-1985); U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1985-1988); U.S. Secretary of State (1989-1992);
  • Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York (I) (2001-present);
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, PhD, U.S. National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981);
  • Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Labor (2001-2009);
  • Ken Duberstein, Chief of Staff to President Ronald Reagan (1988-1989);
  • Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, (R-TX) (1993-2013);
  • Paul O'Neill, U.S. Treasury Secretary (2001-2002); co-chairman, Alcoa (1987-1999);
  • Peter Orzag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (2009-2010); Director Congressional Budget Office (2007-2008);
  • John Podesta, Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton (1998-2001);
  • Steven Rattner, former counselor to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury ("car czar") (2009);
  • Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (2003-2011); chairman, Democratic National Committee (1999-2001), and;
  • Robert Rubin, U.S. Treasury Secretary (1995-1999); co-chairman, Council on Foreign Relations
Rubin, who served during an earlier hyper-partisan era, feels this one is worse.  "In a democracy, you can only move forward if both sides, albeit having very different philosophical views, are willing to come together to govern…And without it, I think we're going to be in terrible trouble," Rubin says.
For his own counsel, Zakaria cautions that though Mr. Obama has secured a legacy with historic healthcare reform, he must now ensure its funding mechanisms are sustainable.  "Getting healthcare reform right may be more important to our fiscal future, than any other set of policies," Zakaria says in the special.  And of exceptional importance, Zakaria advises, is managing the economy for the next generation, specifically, improving the nation's aging infrastructure, fixing education, and reforming entitlement programs to secure them.
Baker agrees that managing the economy and bipartisan compromise are the priorities for second term success.  "President Obama …wants a legacy.  He deserves one.  He's not going to have a legacy if he can't fix our economy," Baker says to Zakaria.
Memo to the President: The GPS Road Map for a 2nd Term
Closer to the premiere, commentary related to foreign policy and domestic opportunities for President Obama's second term, written by Fareed Zakaria, may be found at   During the special broadcast, producers of the special will engage viewers with their policy advice for the president via Twitter, using the hashtag "#ObamaMemo."
CNN Worldwide, a division of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner Company, is the most trusted source for news and information. Its reach extends to nine cable and satellite television networks; one private place-based network; two radio networks; wireless devices around the world; CNN Digital Network, the No. 1 network of news Web sites in the United States; CNN Newsource, the world's most extensively-syndicated news service; and strategic international partnerships within both television and the digital media.

The GOP’s Next Round of Hostage Negotiations

Republicans like their chances in the next fiscal crisis—as long as the details stay vague.

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell
John Boehner and Mitch McConnell's job is to recast the coming debt-limit vote as a new normal that the country needs
Photograph by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

Around 10 years ago, before the Iraq War and the second round of Bush tax cuts, a New York Times reporter parachuted into the Hoover Institution to tap the wisdom of conservative economists. The last deficit had come in at $159 billion—unimaginably low today, but a stumble from the recent era of surpluses. And the economists reached by the Times, veterans from the pre-Clinton era, applauded Bush for erasing those surpluses.

“It is wrong to allow surpluses because these surpluses invariably lead to higher spending,” said John F. Cogan, a former OMB economist for Reagan and Bush I. “Governments simply cannot hang onto money.”

Well, we dodged that particular bullet. And this week and this weekend, spinning away the outcome of the Great Fiscal Cliff Showdown, we got the latest Republican catechism on how spending would finally be cut. The party will once again use the debt limit as leverage to demand entitlement cuts—the steepest anyone has discussed in 30 years.

Republicans spent the Sunday shows describing this as reasonable, natural, the next step from the tax deal. “We have resolved the revenue issue,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell on Meet the Press, “and the question is, ‘what are we going to do about spending?’ ” McConnell used that word, “resolved,” four times to describe the effects of a law that will raise maybe $620 billion while protecting loopholes for electric scooters and Puerto Rican rum. In a weekend Wall Street Journal interview so sympathetic it came with a complementary neck pillow, John Boehner called himself “the guy who put revenues on the table the day after the election,” ignoring how he quickly ruled out higher tax rates as part of any deal, and was only talking about a theoretical reform that nuked loopholes while lowering rates.

McConnell and Boehner were packing a lot into those deep sighs. They argued that the tax deal did not, actually, represent a tax hike, because the rates were going up anyway; that the vote was nonetheless so painful that Republicans deserved points for not blocking it; and that the reward for these Republicans should be a final reckoning on spending. Their job, for now, is recasting the coming debt-limit vote as the best way to do that—not a fluke, not a “hostage negotiation,” but a new normal that the country needs.

That sounds ridiculous, but it’s not. Yes, Republicans have approached every fiscal crisis, real or imagined, as the opening act of an entitlement-cutting negotiation. That was the reason why they eventually broke on taxes. A fundamental rationale for Republicans’ tax fundamentalism was the belief that higher taxes would always be applied to higher spending. “The basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment,” said future Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in 1978, “is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenues available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” Lower taxes, in addition to being stimulative, might eventually “starve the beast.” (Bruce Bartlett has thumbed through all the right history books for a definitive study of “beast-starving” theory.)

You could look at the last 30 years of Republican tax policy as a long anticipation for the big starve. In previous crises, they simply couldn’t convince voters that the possible threats were big enough to spur entitlement cuts. In 2005, the last time a Republican president and Congress campaigned for entitlement cuts, George W. Bush warned that Social Security was “headed toward bankruptcy” and that “by the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt.” In a Florida speech, he’d clarify that “all ideas are on the table except running up the payroll tax,” which didn’t make it sound like a mounting crisis.

The debt limit needing to be hiked at the end of February—now, that’s a crisis. Republicans believe that the public is currently on their side. On Friday, John Boehner showed House Republicans a poll from the Winston Group, testing their messaging and positioning on the debt limit. The pollster had asked voters whether “any increase in the nation’s debt limit must be accompanied by spending cuts and reforms of a greater amount,” basically describing the “Boehner rule” that had governed 2011’s debt talks.

Seventy-two percent of voters agreed with the “rule.” Now that it was decoupled from popular policies, like higher taxes on the rich and more funding for entitlements, it was winnable.

If you dug into the poll, the results were much more ominous for Republicans. The Winston Group asked its subjects about a few programs that could theoretically be slashed.

There were seven possibilities: Reducing government programs “for people like you,” cutting defense spending, means-testing Social Security, raising the Medicare retirement age, raising taxes, ending charitable tax deductions, and ending the mortgage deduction. Only one of these—means-testing Social Security—won more support (61 percent) than opposition (35 percent). The tax ideas were loathed by an overall 2-1 margin; the entitlement ideas were opposed by a narrower margin.

When you talk to House Republicans, the people with the most leverage in the coming faux crisis, they’re not sure what to do with this. They worry about the “message.” In the “fiscal cliff” talks, they felt like they were made to look unreasonable. Whenever they propose a specific entitlement cut, they’re pilloried. This was one reason why the Republican leaders’ Dec. 3 response to “cliff” negotiations, a three-page open letter, suggested “more than $900 billion in mandatory spending [cuts]” without specifying what might be cut.
On Sunday, Republicans made great strides in Operation Vagueness. They stressed that the debt limit was naturally going to be a moment to force spending cuts, but that it wasn’t their fault, and that the cuts had to be suggested by the president. “None of us like using situations like the sequester or the debt ceiling or the operation of government to try to engage the president to deal with this,” said McConnell on Meet the Press. “It's a shame that we have to use whatever leverage we have in Congress to get the president to deal with the biggest problem confronting our future.” On Fox News Sunday, new Sen. Ted Cruz—a champion college debater who’s already being pushed to the front of press conferences—insisted that the debt limit would only turn into a crisis if Barack Obama made it so. “I do not support default on the debt,” he said, “and we should never default on the debt and the only players who are threatening to default are President Obama and Harry Reid.”

For 30 years, Republicans have struggled to find a crisis that could build support for real entitlement cuts. Now, the polls tell them that they’ve found it. That’s why it took so little time to rebound from the “cliff” loss.  
To All  My Followers

I am Pleased and OH so PROUD to Introduce you to KOOPER ALLEEN RAUCH  born January 20th at 5:12AM 8pounds 4.3 ounces and a whooping 22 inches long.  Mom and son are doing terrific, and she did it all el natural.

My Great Grandson

Nana with her precious baby boy      

   Daddy  Kurt Allen Rauch
Mommy Andi Renee Rauch

Expert: Islamists' Algeria raid could inspire copycat attacks

This satellite image provide by DigitalGlobe from Oct. 8, 2012 shows the In Amenas gas field in Algeria, which is jointly operated by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's Sonatrach.
The audacious assault by Islamist militants on a gas plant in Algeria that led to the capture of scores of hostages could spark copycat attacks, a terrorism expert warned Friday.
Terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann, an NBC News contributor who has worked for the FBI, said that other groups would almost certainly be watching closely as the militant fighters led by Mokhtar bel Mokhtar seized the giant facility near In Amenas — and might be inspired.

"(Militant groups) are all vying for attention — for fighters, for financing. They see this, they see the attention it gets," said Kohlmann, who has written about the enigmatic bel Mokhtar in the past.

Bel Mokhtar has been called "The Uncatchable" by French intelligence, along with "Mr. Marlboro" due to his reputed cigarette-smuggling empire, and "a jihadist straight out of central casting" by the British press.

"This group has carried out similar attacks to this in the past. They've certainly taken hostages. They've launched attacks against gas fields and mines,"  Kohlmann said.

'Nightmarish scenario'

But what made the In Amenas raid different was the size of the plant and the number of hostages.

"It's the scale here that we're talking about that's astounding. Taking a group like this all at once… It's really… It's a nightmarish scenario, to be honest," Kohlmann said.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A number of hostages have reportedly managed to escape from the natural gas facility in Algeria where hostages from 10 countries have now been held for three days, while some were killed and injured during a raid by the Algerian military and still more remain unaccounted for. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.

"Within the past year, he's given several different interviews and video recordings in which he's been very clear that one of the primary targets for his group are those who are coming to Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and are 'stealing our resources.'"

Kohlmann said an attack on a French uranium mine in Niger in 2010 has been linked to bel Mokhtar’s group. In that case, workers were also kidnapped and four are still being held to this day.

Thursday, the operators of that and another Niger uranium mine, Areva, said they were tightening security after tons of its contaminated metal used in the extraction of uranium were found in a public junkyard.

Bel Mokhtar is a veteran of the Afghanistan war against the Soviets, a conflict in which he reportedly lost his eye, and he was also once in charge of al-Qaida’s Saharan arm.

Algerian TV via Reuters TV
Hostages freed from a gas facility in Algeria, where Islamist militants were holding them, are seen embracing in pictures broadcast by Algerian TV.

But he now runs his own gang, analysts say, and there are suspicions that he is now more interested in money than jihad.

"He fought in Afghanistan. He fought with al-Qaida in Algeria for years. This guy has been fighting in Algeria since 1991. Yet at the same time he's much more of a desert mafioso than anything else," Kohlmann said.

"He espouses jihadi aims. But he's very well-known for smuggling weapons, cigarettes, narcotics and of course these hostage-taking incidents where he's taken a lot of flak, including from within the jihadi community itself," he added.

"Some of them have said, ‘look, you talk about taking people hostage in order to get our prisoners released from jails, but then all you do is take ransom money and you let these people go.' … So, some of them have distanced themselves from him because of his attention and profit-seeking behavior, really," Kohlmann added.

He said he suspected bel Mokhtar was trying "to ingratiate himself to some of these other new jihadi movements in West Africa."

"And what greater way than to do something like this where not only does he get a lot of media attention, but potentially he makes millions of dollars on ransom payments? And that's what these guys are really motivated by — money," Kohlman said.

Expert: Islamists' Algeria raid could inspire copycat attacksDetails emerge in militant takeover, rescue operation at Algeria gas fieldViolence in Mali, Algeria raises fresh fear of radical IslamUS military cargo planes to help French in MaliAlgerian militant dubbed 'Mr Marlboro' raked in millions from kidnappings
Violence in Mali, Algeria raises fresh fear of radical Islam