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UF expert: Algerian incident an attempt to block West


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American and foreign hostages continue to be held in an Algerian gas plant Thursday.

The exact numbers regarding how many of these hostages have died and how many remain alive are still largely unknown.

Terje Ostebo, assistant professor with the Center of African Studies at the University of Florida, explains the motives behind the captors.

According to reports, the conflict is directly linked to the French invasion of the neighboring country of Mali, Ostebo said.

He said Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the man behind the kidnapping, broke away from al-Qaida a few months ago and formed his own unnamed organization. He allegedly has about 60 fighters in his forces.

“He has been operating in Algeria, and this is kind of his turf,” Ostebo said.

He said these events seep into the larger picture of al-Qaida viewing Westerners as opponents to Islam.  This isn’t a special hatred against France or a revenge for past wars between Algeria and France, he said, but more the need to defend Islamic territories against any kind of Western incursions.

Ostebo said one of the main factors in this conflict is that neighboring countries have, within the last week, released statements saying a possible military intervention wouldn’t take place until September.

“In a way, (this) gave the Islamists in the North a kind of go-ahead for an offensive moving South,” he said.

Ostebo said it seems like the number of French troops is increasing.

“It is too soon to say for how long will they stay, and so far they haven’t said anything about an eventual exit strategy,” he said.

Samantha Dean edited this story online.

About Ethan Magoc

Ethan is a journalist at WUFT News. He's a Pennsylvania native who found a home reporting Florida's stories. Reach him by emailing emagoc@wuft.org or calling 352-294-1525.

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