A day after claiming a Canadian co-ordinated the deadly hostage-taking at the In Amenas gas plant, the Algerian government had still not shared any details with Ottawa to support the explosive allegation.
In Ottawa and Algiers, officials have been asking what prompted Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal to declare two Canadian citizens were involved in the brazen attack that left 38 workers dead.
But verifying the Algerian claims has become an exercise in frustration for Canadian officials, who still do not even know the names of the terrorists, let alone the reasons they have been linked to Canada.
“With regard to the identities of those involved, we have received no information on these individuals from the Algerian government,” Rick Roth, press secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said Tuesday.
Canada summoned Algerian Ambassador Smail Benamara late Monday to press his government to be more forthcoming. As of Tuesday afternoon the North African nation had yet to do so. The embassy did not respond to an interview request.
Led by the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, about three dozen terrorists aligned with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb splinter group allegedly planned the attack in Mali before crossing into Algeria from Libya. All but five were killed by Algerian troops.
Mr. Sellal told reporters a Canadian known as “Chedad” had co-ordinated the operation and that a second Canadian was also involved but Algeria’s failure to produce any evidence to back the claim has fed skepticism.
Press reports said one attacker had been identified as a Canadian through his North American accent, and that Canadian documents were found on two bodies. Even if the Algerians open up to Canada, DNA and dental tests will likely be needed to confirm the men’s identities, meaning it could be weeks before the truth is known.
On Tuesday, Algerian forces were scouring the Sahara desert for five foreign workers who went missing during the four-day siege at the plant, jointly owned by BP, Norway’s Statoil and the Algerian state oil company.
“Are they dead? Did they attempt to flee the site after the attack like some other expatriates? Are they lost in the desert after taking a wrong turn?” said an official who is part of the prime minister’s office. “These are all questions we ask ourselves, but one thing is sure, everything is being done to know their fate.”
The workers killed in the attack were American, British, French, Norwegian, Japanese, Filipino, Romanian and a single Algerian. The Masked Brigade claimed responsibility, saying it was retaliation for a French military operation against Islamist extremists in northern Mali.
The attack signalled that al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters from across North Africa had entrenched themselves in the restive region.
A Canadian intelligence report written last April named al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb as one of the top global terrorist threats.
Flush with millions of dollars raised through kidnappings, the group has been acquiring weapons and expanding its influence, the report said, adding that Canadian energy companies operating in the region “face a real threat”. The report made no mention of any Canadians having joined AQIM.
AQIM has staged several attacks on Canadian companies in Algeria in recent years. In 2008, it claimed responsibility for bombing a bus carrying workers to an SNC-Lavalin water treatment plant. A dozen were killed.
The following year, AQIM ambushed a van carrying employees to an SNC-Lavalin water pipeline project in Algeria, killing six. The group posted a video of the murders on the Internet in 2011.