Globe Editorial: First Take

Wanton sacrifice of hostages is not the way to fight terrorism

The Globe and Mail

Members of the Algerian special forces, also known as the kouksoul, attend a training in Biskra, south of Algiers in this June 28, 2007 file photo. (Reuters)

Any deaths among international workers at a desert gas plant in Algeria are the responsibility of the terrorists who kidnapped them, and not their would-be rescuers. The tough, no-negotiation, no-blackmail, stance of Algerian authorities is laudable. Terrorists thrive on vacillation by governments.

But if a hastily planned and poorly executed government decision to attack the terrorists is found to have contributed to a large-scale loss of life, then Algeria will have some explaining to do, especially to the families of the victims.

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“We say that in the face of terrorism, yesterday as today as tomorrow, there will be no negotiation, no blackmail, no respite in the struggle against terrorism,” Algerian Communication Minister Mohamed Said was quoted as telling the state news agency.

That is a welcome statement from Algeria, which had opened its airspace to the French attack on Islamist extremists in neighbouring Mali, thereby falling foul of the extremists. Algeria’s help is vital to defeating a movement that not only threatens countries in that part of Africa, but western states and interests as well.

The situation remained unclear Friday morning, 48 hours after the terrorists attacked the gas plant, including the compound where workers live. Mr. Said confirmed “several deaths and injuries” among the hostages; international estimates of the hostage death toll run as high as 35. It will be some time before the facts are known; when they are known, we may yet be looking at an Entebbe-like success, in which case Algerian special forces will merit praise.

But it remains troubling that the military action to free the hostages, many of whom are non-Algerians, was launched without consultation with the 10 or more countries whose nationals were being held.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had “expressed concern” that London was not given advance notice of Algeria’s military offensive. Britain’s Foreign Office warned of “bad and distressing news”. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe protested the military raid as an act that “threatened the lives of the hostages,” and asked Algeria to halt it.

Ultimately, hostages should not be wantonly sacrificed to rigid principles. The correct decision not to negotiate with terrorists does not mean hostage lives can be thrown away.

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