Attackers fire rockets at gas facility in Algerian Sahara

AP News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2016 12:06 PM
Attackers fire rockets at gas facility in Algerian Sahara

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — At least two attackers fired rockets at a gas facility in the Sahara Desert in Algeria early Friday, Algerian officials said. They called the attack a "failure" and said there were no injuries.

The Defense Ministry said two homemade rocket shells fell near the security post at the production site jointly operated by Norway-based Statoil and Britain-based BP and overseen by Algeria's state-run Sonatrach.

The Army "scuttled this attempted terrorist attack and immediately surrounded the zone," the ministry said in a statement. A search operation backed by helicopters was in progress, it added.

The state-run APS news agency said two attackers fired homemade rockets at the gas installation in the desert province of Ghardaia. However, a colonel in the security service in the region told The Associated Press that one attacker had been caught and that the total number was unclear.

"This attempt had no impact on the installation or the production," a statement by the Algerian state concern Sonatrach said, calling it a "failure."

However, Statoil said production was shut down. Communications officer Baard Glad Pedersen said this was "customary in such a situation." He said about 600 people were inside the complex at the time.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the 5:30 a.m. attack at the Krechba gas facility. However, suspicion falls on al-Qaida's North African branch, headquartered in northern Algeria.

While it failed to inflict damages, the attack was a reminder of the vulnerability of even heavily-guarded oil and gas fields — Algeria's economic lungs. It came three years after a deadly attack on another large gas facility, at Ain Amenas — near the border of chaotic Libya — eventually claimed by a branch of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. That attack killed 37 workers, most of them foreigners.

"It shows that one is vulnerable when it comes to violent extremism and terrorism in all of North Africa," Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende told Norwegian news agency NTB.

The colonel in the region of Friday's attack said the missiles were fired at the gas site from a distance of some 15 kilometers (nine miles).

Norway-based Statoil said the company has been in touch with its three employees there, who were not hurt.

British energy group BP said in a statement that there were no reports of injuries to its employees and the facility was shut down as a safety precaution.

Al-Qaida's North Africa branch most recently claimed responsibility for an attack Sunday on a beach resort in Ivory Coast, in West Africa, that killed at least 18 people.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this story