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TERRORIST ATTACK: A soldier guards the premises that were attacked in the 2013 In Amenas hostage crisis.

The In Amenas attack - One year after

Published: 16 Jan 2014

On January 16 2013 the gas plant in In Amenas was attacked. On January 15 NUPI held a seminar on developments in the Sahel region over the past year since the attack. The topic for discussion was the debate a country like Norway, with a significant foreign economy. should take when it comes to civil security and risk analysis.

NUPI Director Ulf Sverdrup opened the seminar by referring to Statoil's investigation report on the Amenas attack, stating that Statoil’s systems for assessing political risk were  not good enough

“I think this is a general problem that points beyond Statoil and In Amenas. The general question we must ask is how Norwegian industry in general handles political risks abroad. This is also relevant for risk assessment related to Norwegian foreign policy”, as more companies with large government ownership are working in areas of high risk, Sverdrup said.

Much and little has happened

NUPI researcher Morten Bøås gave an introduction to the development in the Sahel region during the past year.

“On the one hand you can say that much has happened in the region over the past year, with regards to the French intervention in Mali, the election and inauguration of a new democratically elected president in the country. On the other hand you could say that little has changed, considering that the states are still weak, local conflicts are persistent and states have difficulties monitoring the borders”, said Bøås.

He pointed out further that all conflicts have a local origin, and that this forms the backdrop for the attack on the plant in Amenas. Several players in the area use the Al-Qaeda name, although several of these essentially have a national and not global agenda.

Originated in the Civil War

“The attack on Amenas springs from the Algerian civil war in the 90s, when major errors were committed by both the Algerian government and the international community. The terrorists wanted to target the Algerian state by reminding the Algerian population of the civil war. Oil and gas constitute the basis of the Algerian state, and foreign companies are seen as collaborators,” Bøås explained.

He added that those who were behind the attack on Amenas have lost the degree of control they had in northern Mali, yet they are far from beaten. The leader behind the attack , Mokthar Belmokthar, has not yet been caught.

Need for a new development agenda

Bøås stressed that military action in the region is necessary but at the same time it is unlikely that a military victory will be won over the terrorists in the region.

“We need a new development agenda for the region, where companies consider their own safety in relation to the safety of the people who live there”, he said.

NUPI researcher Halvard Leira talked about Amenas attack in the bigger picture:

“While this was a very special attack that it is unlikely that we ever see again, an increasing proportion of Norwegians are living abroad, and Norwegian foreign policy and development policy is broadly exposed to risk. NUPI is working on a new project about how to manage risk for Norwegians abroad.”

Unparalleled attacks

Kjetil Visnes, Communications Director for North Africa in Statoil, was involved both in handling the In Amenas incident and the follow-up afterwards.
“The attack on In Amenas is unparalleled in the oil and gas industry. It was very brutal and 40 innocent people were killed”, Visnes said.
Statoil's own investigation report has identified several areas for security improvements, both in terms of physical measures and safety culture.
“Statoil’s assessment was that the military presence at In Amenas was sufficient to prevent attacks, but the report concludes that the basis for drawing this conclusion was not sufficient. At the same time, the report concludes that we could not have handled the situation in a way that would have produced a different outcome”, Visnes explained.
The report also concluded that Statoil was aware of the risk in the Sahel region, but that they were not to a sufficient able to convert that knowledge into concrete action to implement the necessary security measures.
“The knowledge we have gained from this has relevance beyond the inner life of Statoil”, Visnes concluded.