American Hostages to Jihad in Algeria: 1640 to Present
Early Wednesday (1/16/13) jihadists seized a gas field in Amenas, eastern Algeria, near the border with Libya, taking hostage just under 200 workers, predominantly Algerians, but also some forty foreigners, among them an undisclosed number of Americans. Speaking to France 24, an unnamed hostage claimed the prisoners were being forced to wear explosive belts. The hostage added that their captors were heavily armed and had threatened to detonate the base should the Algerian army attempt to storm it.
The jihadist attackers, in a statement sent to ANI, a Mauritanian news agency, claimed "the operation was a response to flagrant interference of Algeria, [which] opened its airspace to the French Air Force [who] bombed areas of northern Mali," and demanded the "immediate halt of the aggression against our own in Mali." Reference was also made to "the participation of Algeria in the war with France," as "being a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs of Algerians who were killed in the fight against French colonialism." Al Mulathameen ("The Masked Brigade"), who apparently prepared the announcement, is associated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of Al Qaeda. The group insisted it was holding more than 40 "crusaders" -a prototypical jihadist reference to non-Muslims - "including seven Americans, two French, two British as well as other citizens of various European nationalities." Algeria's interior minister, Daho Ould Kablia, maintained the raid was orchestrated by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian who fought Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s and has reportedly established his own group in the Sahara
Initial reports Thursday 1/17/13 (here, here) indicated that perhaps half of the ~ 40 foreign workers, including some of the Americans, as well as ~30 to 40 of the ~ 150 Algerians held captive may have escaped their jihadist kidnappers. An ominous AP story then reported the jihadist captors claimed 35 hostages, and 15 of their members were killed, after Algerian helicopters attacked the gas facility in a strafing run. Reuters subsequently reported thirty hostages were killed, including seven foreign hostages, along with eleven of their jihadist captors, during the Algerian military assault. Following the violent conclusion of the standoff, US Today later repeated both Algerian claims that 600 hostages in total had been freed, and the insistence by the jihadists that 35 of the hostages had been killed, purportedly including 5 Americans. But ABC News, citing unnamed "U.S. officials," claimed five Americans who were at the Algerian natural gas facility when it was raided by the jihadists are now safe, and believed to have left the country.
By Friday (1/18/13) morning, British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers Algerian forces were "still pursuing terrorists," while attempting to secure a "large and complex site," and searching for missing hostages. Cameron noted 30 Britons had been unaccounted for Thursday (1/17/13), but as of Friday morning, that number was considerably smaller. According to Fox News, an American from Texas was still missing. Senior U.S. defense officials also told Fox News that Thursday, two Americans had escaped unharmed; five other Americans who had been at the enormous Amenas facility were able to avoid being taken captive when the terrorists first attacked early Wednesday.
However, as of Saturday 1/19/13 a fuller picture of the still unresolved crisis emerged, described in the Washington Post.
- Survivors recounted being forced to strap on explosives-filled belts when jihadists stormed the site Wednesday. Others were shot on the spot.
- The Algerian military used "missiles, rocket launchers, grenades, machine guns and assault rifles" to free virtually all of the 573 Algerian hostages, along with 100 of the 132 foreign nationals from eight different countries, including the United States. Some jihadists and hostages were killed, including at least one American, with the unverified toll potentially in the dozens, while an unknown number of captives, including Americans, remain trapped at the complex.
- As of Saturday (1/19/13) Algerian security forces were still attempting to bring an end to a four-day-old standoff
- The US State Department acknowledged that Americans were among the remaining hostages. At least one American at the complex, Frederick Buttaccio, a Texan, died at the complex, according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
- The Mauritanian news agency ANI, which has been in contact with the jihadists claiming responsibility for the siege, said the group has offered to release its remaining American hostages in exchange for two high-profile prisoners being held in the United States, Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui, convicted in a U.S. court in 2010 of the attempted murder of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan, and Jama'a al-Islamiya founding member Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (see pp. 8, 307), currently serving a life sentence at a US federal penitentiary in North Carolina for his role in planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (which caused six deaths, 1042 injuries, and nearly $600 million in property damage), and other acts of jihad terrorism within the New York City Metropolitan area.
Wednesday (1/16/13), by sheer (if bitter) coincidence, a very apropos book I ordered because of my curiosity about the earliest American experiences of Islam-150 years before the US became an international power (and convenient excuse for jihadist aggression)-arrived in the mail. Entitled, "A journal, of the captivity and sufferings of John Foss; several years a prisoner at Algiers," (published 1798), the book chronicles Foss's seizure at sea in a trading frigate, October 25, 1793 ("As we judged ourselves to be about 35 leagues [3 nautical miles] westward of Cape St. Vincent" [Portugal]), by Algerian naval jihadists while en route from Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Cadiz, southwestern Spain. Foss, and his fellow seamen were told by their Algerian jihadist captor Rais Hudga Mahomet Salamia,
...now you are slaves and must be treated as such, and do not think that you will be treated worse than you really deserve, for your bigotry and superstition in believing in a man who was crucified by the Jews, and disregarding the true doctrine of God's last and greatest prophet, Mahomet
Foss was held in captivity under abhorrent, brutal conditions and put to hard labor in Algiers and its vicinity for two years until the nascent American government ransomed him and the surviving members of his captured vessel, The Polly. Before elaborating on Foss's plight, and telling observations of Algerian Muslim society, recounted as historian Robert C. Davis has acknowledged in a reliable, credible manner, an "...unembellished, Yankee way of laying out a tale, however horrific its details," it must be noted that his experience as an American captive of Algerian naval jihadism was antedated by those of New Englanders dating back to 1640, during the colonial era. Abolitionist, and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874), in his 1853, "White Slavery in the Barbary States," documented the following accounts, quoting from 17th century New England town records, and letters:
...in 1640, "one Austin a man of good estate," returning discontented to England from Qunipiack [Qunnipiac], now New Haven [Connecticut], on his way "was taken by the Turks, and his wife and family were carried to Algiers, and sold there as slaves."...Instances now thicken. A ship, sailing from Charlestown [Rhode Island], in 1678, was taken by a corsair [naval jihadist], and carried into Algiers, whence its passengers and crew never returned. They probably died in slavery. Among these was Dr. Daniel Mason, a graduate of Harvard College, and the earliest of that name on the list; also James Ellison, the mate. The latter, in a testamentary letter addressed to his wife, and dated at Algiers, June 30, 1679, desired her to redeem out of captivity two of his companions. At the same period William Harris, a person of consequence in the colony, one of the associates of Roger Williams in the first planting of Providence, and now in the sixty-eighth year of his age, sailing from Boston for England on public business, was also taken by a corsair, and carried into Algiers. On the 23rd February, 1679, this veteran...together with all the crew were sold into slavery. The fate of his companions is unknown; but Mr. Harris, after remaining in this condition more than a year, obtained his freedom at the cost of $1200, called by him "the price of a good farm."
Returning to Foss's memoir, it opens with experiential advice, coupled to an appeal:
The importance as well as utility of having a work of this kind generally disseminated through the United States, must be apparent to every thinking person. The suffering of our fellow citizens in Algiers were great indeed! They ought not to be too easily forgotten. Every step to avoid a repetition of them will undoubtedly be pursued. But should, at any future period, from causes not seen, more Americans be doomed to wear the galling chain (God grant that period may never arrive), a knowledge of the habits, manners, and customs of the place, may not be unserviceable. From the tender and feeding soul, a perusal of the following pages, must call forth the tear of sympathy. The hardships-the sufferings-the agonizing tortures, which our fellow citizens had to endure, while groaning under all the horrors of Mahometan vassalage, of Algerine tyranny, must call into action every tender sigh and virgin drops of pity embalm the memory of those whose fate it was to sink under the weight of accumulated woes.-Alas! they're gone.
Foss also preempts any criticism that the account might somehow have exaggerated his travails given the nature of Islamic doctrine and practice, certainly by the Muslim votaries of Algeria.
Some of my descriptions of the treatment of the Captives may appear rather wire-drawn, but then my readers ought to be informed that these merciless Barbarians are taught by their religion to treat the Christian Captives with unexampled cruelty, and that in so doing they do God a service! Hence to expect pity or commiseration from those sons of Ishmael would be as absurd, as to expect a shrubbery from the burning deserts, or cooling streams, from the parched plains of Arabia.
Upon arriving in Algiers (November 1, 1793), Foss recounts,
...we were rowed onshore, and landed amidst the shouts and huzzas of thousands of malicious barbarians. We were conducted to the Dey's [Algerian ruler's] palace by a guard, and as we passed through the streets, our ears were stunned with shouts, clapping of hands and other acclamations of joy from the inhabitants; thanking God for their great success and victories over so many Christian dogs and unbelievers, the appellation they generally give to all Christians.
During their brief audience before the Dey, the captives were told "he was determined never to make peace with the United States," * and referring directly to those Americans before him he added, "now I have got you, you christian dogs, you shall eat stones." Dispatched to the Dey's slave pen or bagno, the enslaved prisoners were stripped naked, issued their year's allotment of slave's garments, and chained:
...it [the clothing allotment] contained a blanket, a capoot (which is a sort of jacket with a head) a waistcoat made something like a frock, to draw over the head, it not being open at the belly, a shirt, with neither collar nor wristbands, a pair of trowsers [trousers], made somewhat like a woman's petticoat, (with this difference,) the bottom being sewed up, and two holes to put the legs through and a pair of slippers...[T]hey put a chain on each man's legs, reaching up to the shoulder, and weighing about 25, or 30lb., this was our first night's lodging in this doleful mansion of horror and despair
Robert Davis's brief assessment of Foss's journal has concluded, appositely, that it captures the "two iron realities" of Algerian slavery-arduous labor, and death. The high mortality was a consequence of chronic malnutrition, traumatic work accidents from the dangerous tasks imposed, and mistreatment (i.e., beatings, including with a bastinado, or cudgel to the soles of the feet, commonly repeated 150-200 times). But Davis's brief overview ignores Foss's rich narrative account of the Islamically-inspired mores he witnessed during his captivity, and recorded in unapologetic, disturbing detail. These latter descriptions of Foss-consistently omitted by Davis and contemporary academics of his mindset-are redolent with an Islamic Weltanschauung that persists, all too broadly, into our era.
Blinding ourselves-or allowing academic, media, and political "elites" to obfuscate this tragic and dangerous reality for us-continues to put basic American security at unnecessary risk. Before letting John Foss's eloquent, frank words from 1798 speak for themselves, I note with a glimmer of optimism in the face of the tragic events in Amenas, Algeria, this uncharacteristically candid (and likely painful) admission in Wednesday's (1/16/13) New York Times coverage:
The United States is traditionally a major importer of Algerian crude, although over the last few years much of those imports have been replaced by new oil production in American shale oil fields in North Dakota and Texas.
Key extracts recording what John Foss observed during his captivity in Algeria on the conditions of Algeria's American (and other Christian) slaves, Algerian Muslim attitudes and behaviors towards non-Muslims, and each other, and the Islamic motivations for what he witnessed, published circa 1798, follow:
At daybreak, in the morning, the prison-keeper calls all the slaves to go to work. At the door of the Bagnio, they are met by the Guardians or task-masters (who have their orders from the Guardian Bachi; he is the master of all the slaves belonging to the regency) they are then conducted to whatever place he has directed. The greatest part of their work is blowing rocks in the mountains. While some are drilling the holes, others are digging the earth from off those rocks, which are under it, and others carry away the dirt in baskets. When the rocks are blown, they take such as will answer their purpose: (Rocks less than 20 Tons weight will not serve)-Many are hauled by the slaves, two miles distance, which weigh 40 tons. They roll them to the bottom of the mountain, where is a convenient place to put them on a sled. Here they are left until Friday, (which is the Mahometan Sabbath, on which day all the Christian slaves belonging to the Regency, are driven out to haul them to the Quay [flat landing place parallel to the bank of a waterway], which is about two miles from the place where they are loaded.-In order to haul these rocks, they place them upon a sled made of large square timber, and after being sufficiently secured with ropes, they put about six or seven hundred men to each sled, who haul it with ropes about seven inches in circumference, and as all the road is paved with large flat stones, they make some progress in the business. When rising an ascent, should the number at one sled, not be able to haul it, they are assisted by the rest. By this means, they are enable to haul three, or four rocks in a day, upon each sled. From this Quay, they are taking on board a Puntoon (which is a large flat bottomed kind of vessel) and discharged at the back of the mole [a massive work formed of masonry and large stones or earth laid in the sea as a pier or breakwater], with the help of wheels. These rocks are laid there in order to break off the sea, that the mole may not wash away; which must have a continual supply, for every gale of wind that comes washes them into deep water. After a gale they have as much need of them as they had the first hour after the mole was built. So we may conclude this is work that will never be finished. On Friday when the slaves are going to work in the mountains, they pass out through the gates of the city about day break in the morning, and arrive at the bottom of the mountain, sometimes before sunrise.-On their arrival there, they are divided by the task masters into different gangs, each gang has one sled. They must haul as many in a day as the task-masters think proper, and are treated with additional rigor and severity on this day. For the drivers being anxious to have as many hauled as possible (because the number they haul must be reported to the Dey,)-they are continually beating the salves with their sticks, and goading them with its end, in which isd a small spear, not unlike an ox-goad, among our farmers. If any one chance to faint, and fall down with fatigue, they generally beat them until they are able to rise again.
Brutal punishment of slave-workers for missing "roll call"
The roll is called every night in the prison, a few minutes before the gates are locked.-If any one neglects his call, he is immediately put into irons, hands and feet, then chained to a pillar, where he must remain until the next morning. Then the irons are taken from his feet, and he is driven before a task-master, to the marine, and the Viguilbadge (who is the minister of the marine) orders what punishment he thinks proper, which is immediately inflicted by the task-masters. He commonly orders 150, or 200 Bastinadoes. The manner of inflicting this punishment is as follows: The person is laid upon his face, with his hands in irons behind him, and his legs lashed together with a rope.-One task-master holds down his head and another his legs, while two others inflict the punishment upon his breech, with sticks some what larger than an ox-goad. After he has received one half of his punishment in this manner, they lash the ankles to a pole, and two Turks lift the pole up, and hold it in such a manner, as brings the soles of the feet upward, and the remainder of his punishment, he receives upon the soles of his feet. Then he is released from his bands, and obliged to go directly to work among the rest of his fellow-slaves.
"Nourishment" and "Sleeping quarters"
Having related the daily labors of the slaves, I now proceed to give you an account of the provisions they are allowed to subsist on, to enable them to perform this laborious slavery...About eight o'clock in the morning they are called by one of the task-masters from their work to take breakfast. Which they receive in the following order. When they are called they all leave their work, and go near some sacks of bread. As they pass they are counted by one of the drivers, while another gives each man a loaf of bread: And to every eight man he gives a wooden bowl with about a pint of vinegar, in this manner they pass until all have received their allowance.-They then sit down upon the ground to eat, and are commonly called to work in about ten minutes, and are seldom allowed more than 12. The same ceremony is passed at 12 o'clock, when they receive the same allowance. At night when the roll is called they receive another loaf of bread, but no vinegar. This is all the provision they have allowed them from the Regency...So what bread each man has allowed him for a day, will not exceed eleven ounces, and it is so sour that a person must be almost starving before he can eat it.-The reason for its being so sour is their mixing the dough three days before it is baked...The Bagnio in which the slaves sleep, is built with several galleries, one above another; in each gallery are several small rooms, in them slaves sleep. For the use of these rooms they must pay a certain sum of money every moon to the Guardian Bachi, or sleep in the open Bagnio, where they have nothing but the firmament to cover them...[M]any are obliged to sleep every night upon the cold stones, with nothing but the heavens to cover them, for want of money to pay this tribute.
Hazards of slave labor
In the month of May '94 , as all hands were at work, dragging those large rocks before related to the quay, one of the slaves a Neapolitan happened to fall down, being near the sled, before it could be stopped, he was entirely crushed to pieces. The task-masters apparently rejoiced at the accident, and with smiling countenances, ordered two slaves to gather the remains of his body in a basket, and bury them at the Christian burial ground, ordering the rest to go on with the rock, not giving them time to enquire what accident had happened. But telling them a Christian dog has gone to his own country. And many of them did not know what happened for some time afterwards. Another singular accident happened, about four months afterwards. As we were hauling rocks in the same manner, a Corsican slave accidentally fell down, and the sled went over his legs and knees, his legs and feet being crushed in such a manner, that it was impossible to distinguish one part from another. His father and six brothers who were also slaves, were witnesses of this dreadful accident. The father, his seven sons, and five grandsons, having been captured all together on board one vessel, about fifteen days before this accident happened. As the unfortunate Christian did not expire immediately, he was sent to the hospital, where he remained two days in the most exquisite agony. The king of terrors then put a period to his existence.
Algerian Muslim punishments of, and attitudes/behaviors towards, non-Muslims, and each other
The punishments [of Christian slaves] for small offenses are bastinadoes... They have different punishments for capital offenses, sometimes they are burned, or rather roasted alive. At other times they are impaled. This is done by placing the criminal upon a sharp iron stake and thrusting it up the posteriors, by his back until it appears at the back of his neck. For being found in company with a Mahometan woman he is beheaded, and the woman is put into a sack and carried about a mile at sea, and thrown overboard, with a sufficient quantity of rocks, or a bomb, to sink her. For suspicion of being with one, the salve is castrated, and the woman bastinadoed. A slave for murder of another slave is immediately beheaded. But for murder of a Mahometan he is cast off from the walls of the city upon iron hooks, which are fastened into the wall about half way down.-These catch by any part of the body that happens to strike them, and sometimes they hang in this manner, in the most exquisite agonies for several days together before they expire. But should the part that catches, not be strong enough to hold them (for sometimes this is the case, and the flesh tears out) they fall to the bottom of the wall and are dashed to pieces upon sharp stones, placed for this purpose. If a slave endeavors to make his escape and is brought back, they are nailed to a gallows, by one hand and the opposite foot, and in this they expire in the most despicable torture. But this method is not always practiced for desertion, for sometimes they are only bastinadoed, at other times they are beheaded...A slave for speaking disrespectfully of the Mahometan Religion, is impaled or burnt-For striking a Turk he is executed in the same manner.
A Jew for different offenses hath various punishments; similar to those of the Christian slaves, and not with less severity. Such is the gross indignation the Mahometans bear toward the Jewish religion, that a Turk may with impunity (if he flees to a Marabout Mosque, or pay a small penalty), murder ten of them. If he kills the eleventh, he is strangled, no Mosque or penalty will execute him: Nothing will save his life, except he is pardoned by the Dey, whose word is absolute. A slave may with the same impunity, beat and abuse them in the streets as he passes. While the poor Israelites are not allowed to lift their hand in their own defense, on penalty of having it cut off. All the consolation they will have, in such cases, from the Mahometans, is encouragement for the slaves to continue their abuse. I have known fifty in one day to receive five hundred bastinadoes each for being found with a red sash about their waists. As they are not allowed to wear any color except black.
A Turk for offenses capital, is strangled in the following manner. The criminal is confined, with his back against the wall, in which are two holes, directly opposite the back of his neck, through these holes is reaved a rope, with the two ends on the opposite side, from where the criminal is, and the bite or double of the rope coming about the criminals neck. Then the two ends are knotted together, and the executioner puts a stick in between the rope and wall. Then turning the stick round (as the sea phrase is) like a Spanish windlass, which twisting the two parts of the rope together brings it tight about the criminal's neck, and he is soon dispatched. The executioner does not see the criminal while performing his office. This is accounted the most honorable death for persons who are executed. And beheading the most ignominious. A Turk for offenses not capital, is commonly bastinadoed. A Moor or Arab, for enormous crimes, are sometimes cast upon the hooks; and at other times, hanged or beheaded. For small crimes they are enslaved (condemned to share the fate of Christian captives) for a certain term of time. For theft, they sometimes have the right hand cut off, and hung about the neck.-Then the criminal is set upon an ass, and led through the city; with his face toward the asses tail, and hath sometimes to wear his hand, hung by a string about his neck, as he passes through the city, for several years...If any Renegado [an apostate], after embracing the Mahometan religion, deviates from its principles, the most ignominious death immediately follows.
In former days, the Christian captives when dead were not allowed to be interred, but were carried out about half a Mile to the eastward of the city, and precipitated down the banks into the sea. This manner of disposing of the dead bodies of Christians, was practiced by the Algerines until about the beginning of the seventeenth century. At this time, a Roman Catholic priest, who was taking a tour through Barbary, happened to be in Algiers, and the Plague raging very severe in the city, of course a great number of slaves died, and were cast into the sea, this dreadful spectacle, moved the heart of the humane Priest who possessing an independent fortune, purchased at an exorbitant price (90,000 dollars), about one acre of land for a burial place for Christians. The day he paid the money for this piece of ground, the plague broke out in his groin, which puts a period to his existence in seventeen hours, consequently he was the first who was interred on this piece of land, and perhaps the first Christian that had been buried in the territory of Algiers since it was inhabited by Mahometans, as they formerly cast all of this denomination into the sea, who paid the last debt of nature near the seashore. Those who died in the country, were suffered to remain above ground. The author flatters himself that a description of this piece of land will not be unacceptable to his readers, he therefore presents a short and authentic account of it to their perusal.-It lies about a half mile westward of the city, where is a piece of low land or meadow, this is dyked in with a mound to prevent the sea from washing in and destroying the produce of the land. The burial ground is between the mound and the sea, consequently, in a heavy gale of wind, the violence of the waves washes the dead bodies out of their graves, into the ocean, as the place is nothing more than a sandy beach, and the corpses are seldom buried more than one foot under the land. According to the records of the nation, upwards of 98,000 Christians ** have already been buried here, and scarcely any marks of a burial ground is to be discovered, more than the great quantities of human bones which are to be seen laying upon the beach. They keep four slaves whom age has rendered incapable of any other employment, to bury their deceased companions, as it is contrary to the religion of Mahomet, for one of that denomination, to touch the dead body of a Christian.
*The Algerian Dey's remarks comport with comments about Islam's timeless jihad against the non-Muslim infidel expressed candidly to then US diplomats John Adams and Thomas Jefferson during their 1786 meeting with the Tripolitan [Libyan] ambassador Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja. These future American presidents were attempting to negotiate a peace treaty which would spare the United States the ravages of jihad piracy-murder, enslavement (with ransoming for redemption), and expropriation of valuable commercial assets-emanating from the Barbary states (i.e., in addition to Algeria, modern Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya, known collectively in Arabic as the Maghrib). During their discussions, they questioned Ambassador Adja as to the source of the unprovoked animus directed at the fledgling United States republic. Jefferson and Adams, in their subsequent report to the Continental Congress, recorded the Tripolitan Ambassador's justification:
... that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.
** Commenting upon this figure of 98,000, Robert Davis opined,
It was a prodigious number of deaths-an average of 500 slaves per years must have died, year in, year out, for nearly 200 years. This was, moreover, probably only part of the total. Very likely, the figure left out Protestant and Orthodox Christians, who would not have been welcomed in consecrated, Catholic ground. Nor would it have included, as Foss himself observed, "Those who died in the country, [and who] were suffered to remain above ground."