Army operation at Algeria siege
An Algerian military operation is underway at a gas facility in eastern Algeria where hostages are being held, the country’s state news agency reports. Twenty-five foreign hostages escaped today along with as many as 150 Algerian hostages, when the country’s forces launched an operation to free them from the Islamist militants, Algerian sources said. But at least six western hostages and eight militants were reported to have been killed when Algerian army helicopters intervened, as one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades unfolded. The Algerian government told David Cameron it is determined to take the lead in dealing with the hostage crisis, according to government sources. The crisis began early Wednesday morning when a bus carrying gas workers to In Amenas airport was attacked 3 km (1.9 miles) from the plant.
France boosts Mali troop numbers
France has increased its troop strength in Mali to 1,400 to help fight militant Islamists in the north, the French defence minister has said. Close to 200 Nigerian troops are also due to arrive in Mali to join the military campaign. Meanwhile, the Malian army sped reinforcements today to a town close to the capital Bamako, after Islamist fighters were spotted in the nearby border region with Mauritania, residents and a military source said. The conflicts in Mali, when combined with the ongoing Algerian siege, deepen fears of an anti-Western war across the deserts of northern Africa. Mali has a long history as an independent nation straddling the trans-Saharan trade routes, but recent developments could upset the balance.
EU warnings from all sides
Business Secretary Vince Cable is expected to warn David Cameron that it would be a “dangerous gamble” to try to renegotiate powers from Brussels. In a speech today, the Lib Dem MP will recognise that “far-reaching reform” of the EU’s institutions is needed. Ed Miliband warned this morning that David Cameron is risking Britain heading out the exit door of the European Union, but he refused to say whether Labour would support a referendum to bring back powers from Brussels. However, a group of 25 pro-EU Tory backbenchers wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to set out a “positive British vision for leadership in Europe” in his long-awaited speech in the Netherlands tomorrow. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister himself is said to be relaxed about the chorus of advice he is receiving from inside the Tory party and across the Channel.
Massacre of over 100 reported in Syria’s Homs
More than 100 people were shot, stabbed and possibly burned to death in the Syrian city of Homs this week, in what a monitoring group said was a massacre by the army or militia loyal to Bashar al-Assad. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said women and children were among the 106 people killed by forces who stormed Basatin al-Hasawiya, an impoverished district on the edge of town. The news followed near-simultaneous bomb blasts, which killed more than 20 people yesterday in the Syrian city of Idlib, according to government officials and activists.
Safety fears ground all Boeing 787s
All of Boeing’s flagship 787 Dreamliners have now been temporarily taken out of service amid safety concerns. Airlines scrambled to rearrange flights today as Europe, Japan, Qatar and India joined the United States in grounding Dreamliner passenger jets over battery-related problems. Japanese Transport Ministry Vice Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said the grounding was for an indefinite period, and India’s aviation regulator said it was unclear when the aircraft would be back in service.