[Updated] American Hostages to Jihad in Algeria: 1640 to Present
AndrewBostom.org 21 January 2013
By Andrew Bostom
Early Wednesday (1/16/13) jihadists seized a gas field in Amenas, eastern Algeria, near the border with Libya, taking hostage just under 200 workers, predominantly Algerians, but also some forty foreigners, among them an undisclosed number of Americans
Speaking to France 24, an unnamed hostage claimed the prisoners were being forced to wear explosive belts. The hostage added that their captors were heavily armed and had threatened to detonate the base should the Algerian army attempt to storm it.
The jihadist attackers, in a statement sent to ANI, a Mauritanian news agency, claimed "the operation was a response to flagrant interference of Algeria, [which] opened its airspace to the French Air Force [who] bombed areas of northern Mali,” and demanded the "immediate halt of the aggression against our own in Mali.” Reference was also made to "the participation of Algeria in the war with France,” as "being a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs of Algerians who were killed in the fight against French colonialism.” Al Mulathameen ("The Masked Brigade”), who apparently prepared the announcement, is associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of Al Qaeda. The group insisted it was holding more than 40 "crusaders” —a prototypical jihadist reference to non-Muslims — "including seven Americans, two French, two British as well as other citizens of various European nationalities.” Algeria’s interior minister, Daho Ould Kablia, maintained the raid was orchestrated by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and has reportedly established his own group in the Sahara
Initial reports Thursday 1/17/13 (here, here) indicated that perhaps half of the ~ 40 foreign workers, including some of the Americans, as well as ~30 to 40 of the ~ 150 Algerians held captive may have escaped their jihadist kidnappers. An ominous AP story then reported the jihadist captors claimed 35 hostages, and 15 of their members were killed, after Algerian helicopters attacked the gas facility in a strafing run. Reuters subsequently reported thirty hostages were killed, including seven foreign hostages, along with eleven of their jihadist captors, during the Algerian military assault. Following the violent conclusion of the standoff, US Today later repeated both Algerian claims that 600 hostages in total had been freed, and the insistence by the jihadists that 35 of the hostages had been killed, purportedly including 5 Americans. But ABC News, citing unnamed "U.S. officials,” claimed five Americans who were at the Algerian natural gas facility when it was raided by the jihadists are now safe, and believed to have left the country.
By Friday (1/18/13) morning, British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers Algerian forces were "still pursuing terrorists,” while attempting to secure a "large and complex site,” and searching for missing hostages. Cameron noted 30 Britons had been unaccounted for Thursday (1/17/13), but as of Friday morning, that number was considerably smaller. According to Fox News, an American from Texas was still missing. Senior U.S. defense officials also told Fox News that Thursday, two Americans had escaped unharmed; five other Americans who had been at the enormous Amenas facility were able to avoid being taken captive when the terrorists first attacked early Wednesday.
[UPDATE] However, as of Saturday 1/19/13 a fuller picture of the still unresolved crisis emerged, described in the Washington Post.
- Survivors recounted being forced to strap on explosives-filled belts when jihadists stormed the site Wednesday. Others were shot on the spot.
- The Algerian military used "missiles, rocket launchers, grenades, machine guns and assault rifles” to free virtually all of the 573 Algerian hostages, along with 100 of the 132 foreign nationals from eight different countries, including the United States. Some jihadists and hostages were killed, including at least one American, with the unverified toll potentially in the dozens, while an unknown number of captives, including Americans, remain trapped at the complex.
- As of Saturday (1/19/13) Algerian security forces were still attempting to bring an end to a four-day-old standoff
- The US State Department acknowledged that Americans were among the remaining hostages. At least one American at the complex, Frederick Buttaccio, a Texan, died at the complex, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
- The Mauritanian news agency ANI, which has been in contact with the jihadists claiming responsibility for the siege, said the group has offered to release its remaining American hostages in exchange for two high-profile prisoners being held in the United States, Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui, convicted in a U.S. court in 2010 of the attempted murder of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, and Jama’a al-Islamiya founding member Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (see pp. 8, 307), currently serving a life sentence at a US federal penitentiary in North Carolina for his role in planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (which caused six deaths, 1042 injuries, and nearly $600 million in property damage), and other acts of jihad terrorism within the New York City Metropolitan area.
Wednesday (1/16/13), by sheer (if bitter) coincidence, a very apropos book I ordered because of my curiosity about the earliest American experiences of Islam—150 years before the US became an international power (and convenient excuse for jihadist aggression)—arrived in the mail. Entitled, "A journal, of the captivity and sufferings of John Foss; several years a prisoner at Algiers,” (published 1798), the book chronicles Foss’s seizure at sea in a trading frigate, October 25, 1793 ("As we judged ourselves to be about 35 leagues [3 nautical miles] westward of Cape St. Vincent” [Portugal]), by Algerian naval jihadists while en route from Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Cadiz, southwestern Spain. Foss, and his fellow seamen were told by their Algerian jihadist captor Rais Hudga Mahomet Salamia,
…now you are slaves and must be treated as such, and do not think that you will be treated worse than you really deserve, for your bigotry and superstition in believing in a man who was crucified by the Jews, and disregarding the true doctrine of God’s last and greatest prophet, Mahomet
Foss was held in captivity under abhorrent, brutal conditions and put to hard labor in Algiers and its vicinity for two years until the nascent American government ransomed him and the surviving members of his captured vessel, The Polly. Before elaborating on Foss’s plight, and telling observations of Algerian Muslim society, recounted as historian Robert C. Davis has acknowledged in a reliable, credible manner, an "…unembellished, Yankee way of laying out a tale, however horrific its details,” it must be noted that his experience as an American captive of Algerian naval jihadism was antedated by those of New Englanders dating back to 1640, during the colonial era. Abolitionist, and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874), in his 1853, "White Slavery in the Barbary States,” documented the following accounts, quoting from 17th century New England town records, and letters:
…in 1640, "one Austin a man of good estate,” returning discontented to England from Qunipiack [Qunnipiac], now New Haven [Connecticut], on his way "was taken by the Turks, and his wife and family were carried to Algiers, and sold there as slaves.”…Instances now thicken. A ship, sailing from Charlestown [Rhode Island], in 1678, was taken by a corsair [naval jihadist], and carried into Algiers, whence its passengers and crew never returned. They probably died in slavery. Among these was Dr. Daniel Mason, a graduate of Harvard College, and the earliest of that name on the list; also James Ellison, the mate. The latter, in a testamentary letter addressed to his wife, and dated at Algiers, June 30, 1679, desired her to redeem out of captivity two of his companions. At the same period William Harris, a person of consequence in the colony, one of the associates of Roger Williams in the first planting of Providence, and now in the sixty-eighth year of his age, sailing from Boston for England on public business, was also taken by a corsair, and carried into Algiers. On the 23rd February, 1679, this veteran…together with all the crew were sold into slavery. The fate of his companions is unknown; but Mr. Harris, after remaining in this condition more than a year, obtained his freedom at the cost of $1200, called by him "the price of a good farm.” (continue reading...)