Jan 21 2013
As the death toll from the terror attack on a gas plant in Algeria rose above 80, Foreign Secretary William Hague has denied that Western intervention in neighbouring Libya has fuelled the spread of extremism in the region.
Mr Hague insisted that military action taken by Britain and France had "mitigated" the instability caused by the insurrection against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which has been blamed for a flow of weapons and militant fighters into countries such as Mali over the past year.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who warned of a decades-long fight to control Islamist extremism in northern Africa, is chairing a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency committee to discuss the fallout from the Algerian hostage crisis.
Three British nationals are now known to have died in the four-day siege at the In Amenas gas facility, which finally ended on Saturday, and three more are feared dead. A Colombian-born UK resident is also thought to have died.
At least 81 people have now been reported dead, including 32 Islamist militants, 23 hostages and 25 bodies found as Algerian forces searched the plant for explosives, many of whom were so badly disfigured it was impossible to identify whether they were workers or members of the terror gang.
As well as the three missing Britons, some 10 Japanese, five Norwegians, four Filipinos and two Malaysians working at the plant, in remote desert near the Libyan border, are unaccounted for. The group which has claimed responsibility for the outrage, calling themselves the Masked Brigade, warned in a statement of further attacks against any country backing France's military intervention in neighbouring Mali, where Paris is trying to prevent an advance by Islamic extremists who have taken over the north of the country.
"We stress to our Muslim brothers the necessity to stay away from all the Western companies and complexes for their own safety, and especially the French ones," the statement said.
In an interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Hague acknowledged that weapons coming out of Libya had contributed to a situation which terror network Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) had "taken advantage of". But he insisted the spread of weapons and extremism could have been even worse if Gaddafi's regime had been allowed to survive for longer.
"If the Libyan conflict had gone on for longer, there would have been an even greater flow of weapons and an even greater opportunity for extremists to take hold in Libya," Mr Hague told Today. "While the Libyan situation may well have contributed to what has happened in Mali, I think the action that the Western world took in Libya, if anything, mitigated that."
Mr Hague pointed to Somalia as a model for Western policy-makers, stressing the progress the country had made towards stability. "What we do not want in these countries like Mali is that 20 years of failed state that preceded all of that in Somalia," he added.