BP report warned of terrorism risk in Algeria, Africa


LONDON -- Before the recent terrorist attack on a natural-gas facility in Algeria, internal BP reports in 2011 and 2012 cautioned the oil giant's staff that the killing of Osama bin Laden could give rise to new threats from al Qaeda offshoots in Africa.

The reports, which were seen by The Wall Street Journal, anticipate the emergence of groups like the one that launched a deadly attack against the plant in In Amenas, Algeria, which BP operates in a joint venture with Algerian state-oil company Sonatrach and Norway's Statoil.

One of the reports, in May 2011 -- just after bin Laden's killing -- predicted that renewed terror activity could emerge from Algeria's al Qaeda franchise, among others.

However, a January 2012 report didn't mention Algeria among the top threats. It focused instead on other African countries, such as Somalia and Nigeria, as well as sites in Iraq and Turkey, which the company saw as vulnerable to the spillover from conflict in Iran and Syria.

BP declined to comment for this article.

The hostage-taking by militants who stormed the In Amenas plant led to a deadly confrontation that left at least 38 people dead. Four BP staff were killed during the siege. The militant group, calling itself Those Who Sign With Blood, is headed by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a breakaway commander from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM -- both originating from Algeria.

The May 2011 killing of bin Laden in Pakistan gave rise to hopes that al Qaeda-affiliated terror groups would lose strength. The BP internal security assessments, however, predicted a new generation of extremists could rise up and be more focused on African targets.

"[Al Qaeda] affiliates and other groups will seek to fill the leadership and motivational void left by OBL," BP's security department said in its internal newsletter the month U.S. forces killed bin Laden.

A later threat assessment, issued last year, said that while al Qaeda's ability to mount operations in the US or Europe was likely suppressed by bin Laden's death, operatives in places like Somalia and Nigeria were developing their own brand of Islamic terrorism.

Those efforts, the report said, were "fostered by weak or nonexistent central governments, easily-crossed borders, ready availability of weapons and explosives, and simmering ethnic, religious and economic fissures."

The same report acknowledged Libya remained unstable after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and added: "It will take considerable time for the central government to re-establish order nationwide, and the saturation of arms throughout the country will contribute to lawlessness."

Mr. Belmokhtar took advantage of chaos during the war in Mali, and the availability of weapons in Libya, to launch an attack in neighboring Algeria. Algeria had long been seen as an unlikely location for such an attack after its army crushed most of an Islamic militancy during the 1990s.

Indeed, BP had suffered just four security incidents in that country in the previous 15 years, according to an internal list of such incidents.

Dow Jones Newswires

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