Prime Minister's statement on the hostage situation in Algeria

David Cameron's response to the Algerian hostage crisis.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Cameron

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the hostage crisis in Algeria and the tragic events of the last three days.

I am sure the whole House will share my disgust and condemnation at this brutal and savage terrorist attack that has been unfolding in Algeria.

Our thoughts and prayers this morning are with those still caught up in this incident - with their families who are waiting anxiously for news and with those who have already lost loved ones.

Mr Speaker, I have this morning chaired another meeting of the COBRA emergency committee and just come from speaking again to the Algerian Prime Minister.

So let me take the House through what we believe has happened the steps we are taking now and what this means for our security and the fight against terrorism around the world.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning terrorists attacked a gas installation run by BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian company Sonatrech, in In Amenas in South East Algeria near the Libyan border.

The terrorist group is believed to have been operating under Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a criminal terrorist and smuggler who has been operating in Mali and  in the region for a number of years, and who was formerly affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

Mr Speaker, In Amenas is some 18 hours by road from the capital Algiers.  

It is in the middle of the Sahara desert and one of the most remote places in the world.

As a result it takes time to get a complete picture and the full details are still emerging.

But according to the information we have from the Algerian authorities the terrorists first attacked two buses en route to the Amenas airfield before attacking the residential compound and the gas facility at the installation.

It appears to have been a large, well co-ordinated and heavily armed assault and it is probable that it had been pre-planned.

Two of those travelling in the convoy to the airfield were very sadly killed including one British national and his family were informed on Wednesday.

A number of other workers, were taken hostage by the terrorists in separate locations both at the residential compound and the gas facility.

The precise numbers involved remain unclear at this stage but the hostages included British nationals, along with nationals of at least seven other countries and of course  many Algerians.

As soon as we heard of the attack we initiated the government’s crisis management procedures in both London and Algeria.

Our most immediate priority was to establish the identity and whereabouts of British nationals, to contact their families, and to do everything possible to secure their safe return.

I chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee - COBRA.

I spoke to the Algerian Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon and then again on three further occasions.

From the outset I have been clear about our implacable opposition to terrorism and said that we will stand with the Algerians in their fight against these terrorist forces.

But I also emphasised the paramount importance of securing the safety of the hostages.

I offered UK technical and intelligence support - including from experts in hostage negotiation and rescue - to help find a successful resolution.

And I urged that we and other countries affected should be consulted before any action was taken.

I also spoke to the leaders of other countries which had hostages taken - including Japanese Prime Minister Abe, Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg, President Hollande and President Obama and I co-ordinated further offers of support for the Algerians in dealing with the situation.

Mr Speaker, during the course of Thursday morning the Algerian forces mounted an operation.

Mr Speaker, we were not informed of this in advance.

I was told by  the Algerian Prime Minister while it was taking place.

He said that the terrorists had tried to flee, that they judged there to be an immediate threat to the lives of the hostages and had felt obliged to respond.

When I spoke again to the Algerian Prime Minister  later last night he told me that this first operation was complete but this is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas of the site. 

The Algerian Prime Minister has just told me this morning they are now looking at all possible routes to resolve this crisis.

Mr Speaker, last night the number of British citizens at risk was less than 30.

Thankfully we now know that number has now been quite significantly reduced.

And I am sure the House will understand why during an ongoing operation I can not say more on this at this stage.

Mr Speaker, our priority remains the safety of British nationals involved, the repatriation of those killed and the evacuation of the wounded and freed hostages.

A Rapid Deployment Consular team is en route to Algiers together with other specialists.

And the Algerian Prime Minister has agreed my request to grant access to our consular staff to fly south as soon as possible to support those involved.

I have also spoken with Bob Dudley at BP both last night and again this morning.

We are liaising closely on BP’s evacuation plans and have put additional civilian aircraft on standby to assist them with their well thought through evacuation plans if needed.

Mr Speaker, we need to be absolutely clear whose fault this is.

It is the terrorists who are responsible for this attack and for the loss of life. 

The actions of these extremists can never be justified.

We will be resolute in our determination to fight terrorism and to stand with the Algerian government

who have paid a heavy price over many years fighting against a savage terrorist campaign.

This is a continuing situation and we will do our best to keep parliament and the public updated.

We hope this will reach a conclusion shortly.

There will then, of course, be a moment then to learn the necessary lessons

And I commend this statement to the House.

Published 18 January 2013