By Mick Krever, CNN
The Canadian diplomat who was held captive by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb for five months said that he was “not in the least” surprised by the attack by militants on workers at a natural gas facility in the Algerian desert.
“They are on the look, constantly, for this kind of operation,” Robert Fowler told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
“What does surprise me,” he said, “is any suggestion, either from the spin-meisters on the al Qaeda side or indeed from the Algerian government side that somehow this action against the LNG [Liquid Natural Gas] facility was a direct result of the situation in Mali.”
The perpetrators of the attack, as well as their one-eyed leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, have been waging a rebellion against the Algerian government for 20 years, Fowler said.
“I suspect that Belmokhtar has been scoping this one out for some time,” he told Amanpour.
Four years ago, Fowler was kidnapped by Belmokhtar’s followers in Niger. He was held for 130 days in neighboring Mali, where he met Belmokhtar several times.
As to whether the attackers are “bandits flying a flag of Islamic convenience” or “latter-day Robin Hoods doing some banditry to nourish the cause,” Fowler said, he believed it was the latter.
“I’ve never seen a more focused, more selfless group of young men in my life,” he said. “They were dressed in rags. There was absolutely no suggestion of wealth or interest in wealth. They were young guys. They didn’t want cool sunglasses or neat shoes. They didn’t have MP3 players. They tended their weapons carefully, and they would tell me again, and again, and again that their only objective was to do God’s will, fight God’s fight, and to get to paradise as soon as possible.”