Ihab Mohamed writes: According to Mauritania's ANI news agency, which seems to be in contact with the Battalion of Blood, the terrorist group behind the hostage crisis, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the group's leader, is offering to release the American hostages in exchange for the release of Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and Pakistani Aafia Siddiqui, who are in jail in America on terrorism charges.
Belmokhtar has recorded a video message, which he is going to send to the mass media, in which he offers the same swap and calls on the French and Algerians to negotiate an end to the war in northern Mali.Of course the last time Abdel-Rahman's name was used in relation to current radical activity was the Cairo protests, which started out as a free-the-Sheikh rally but turned into a riot on the embassy, which was blamed on a movie clip. Has anyone seen Nic Robertson lately?
As to Siddiqui, she's long been a cause celebre in non-moderate Muslim circles.
Government officials are saying this raid was planned well before the French began attacking AQ positions in Mali, as if to suggest Belmoktar is exploiting news events now that he's pinned down but the initial raid was just a hostage-ransom operation. Wouldn't be the first time.
But does anyone really believe that? This was a high-profile, large raid, conducted after the French began their operation and one they had to know would provide a lot of visibility. What difference does it make when it was planned? Besides, it's not as if the French--and the US--just woke up last week and noticed AQIM was actively trying to overthrow Mali and exert influence in other African territory.
So we'll see how the various officials describe the event going forward. Recent history suggests they may try to claim it was just an over-zealous ransom operation gone awry, which would fit with the other African blowup explanations, ie, Cairo was just an out-of-control protest about a hateful movie and Benghazi was just, well, the FBI is still investigating so they can't say but anyone who questions why Hillary and Susan Rice ran a cover story on it are probably imbeciles.
The level of silence from the US administration is in some ways understandable with hostages still in harm's way. However, other leaders aren't playing it as safe, feeling the need to update their population on breaking events despite having nationals still involved..
Yesterday Jay Carney told the media it was 'premature' to ask whether Algeria consulted with US officials before their rescue attack, something British PM Cameron seemed to have no trouble clarifying above. This silence torqued at least one reporter, the AP's Matt Lee, who normally covers State (and was quite animated in that briefing later). Today the White House didn't see fit to have a press briefing about any of this. The State spokesperson wouldn't provide much if any details. Later Hillary appeared with the Japanese foreign minister and gave a statement and took one question but refused to provide the level of detail covered by PM Cameron. For whatever it's worth. More are paying attention to the Manti scandal (which is admittedly weirder).