Norwegian oil company Statoil “couldn’t have prevented” the deadly attack by Islamic terrorists on its gas facility in Algeria earlier this year, claims a commission appointed by Statoil to investigate it. The company was told on Thursday that it must, however, improve its security procedures both at home and abroad.
“Given the threats Statoil faces, there must be a considerable strengthening of security routines,” Torgeir Hagen, a military officer who also was a member of the government commission that probed the July 22 attacks on Norway in 2011, told reporters when the commission’s report was released on Thursday.
The attack at the gas plant at In Amenas in the desert of Algeria left 40 employees dead, including five of the 17 Statoil workers who were at the plant when it was stormed by armed Islamists early in the morning of January 16.
The commission stressed that only the terrorists themselves have full responsibility for the attack, and that Statoil could not have prevented it. Even after it began, Statoil officials couldn’t have done anything that would have resulted in a less fatal outcome, the commission determined.
“We don’t want to spread blame or responsibility, but rather contribute towards what can be learned, ” Hagen said. “The report is critical, though. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t have done our jobs.”
Questioning reliance on military
He said that security measures at the remote plant failed, leaving Statoil and other employers at the plant unable to protect their employees. Nor did the Algerian military forces assigned to guard the plant manage to discover the terrorists as they’d entered the country or prevent them from getting inside the plant.
The commission wouldn’t address whether the terrorists crossed the border into Algeria and got to In Amenas without resistance, but said they had no indications that anyone tried to stop them along the way.
Security at the plant was to a large degree based on the military presence in and around In Amenas. The question, according to the commission, is whether Statoil and its partners at the plant relied too heavily on the Algerian military’s protection.
The commission further found that Statoil’s efforts to handle risk and crises were effective, but they also “raise the question of whether Statoil needs to make even stronger efforts.” The commission determined that Statoil still has too few security experts within its ranks, and that those who do work in the company are spread too thinly and not used efficiently enough. The commission recommended that Statoil “must strengthen leadership within security,” across the board.
Speculation it was an ‘inside job’
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that commission members carried out 136 interviews and visited In Amenas twice since they were appointed shortly after the attack. They wouldn’t publicly identify specific measures they think would boost security.
Speculation has arisen that the attack was “an inside job,” with the terrorists getting help from workers at the plant. “What we know,” said Hagen, “is that the terrorists had knowledge about who was inside the plant, and they sought persons by name.”
Statoil’s chief executive Helge Lund said it was now “our responsibility” to learn from this incident, both to improve security in In Amenas and in all of Statoil.” He conceded that security measures weren’t good enough.
“We have reorganized security operations within the company, and merged security and preparedness,” he said. “No one can remove the risk of a terrorist attack, but we can do a lot that will make it more difficult to commit such crimes.”