A leading expert in Sahara militants has questioned whether the Algerian hostage crisis could have been a planned 'inside job', approved by the Algerian intelligence services, which ultimately went awry.

Professor Jeremy Keenan of the School of Oriental And African Studies told The Huffington Post UK that Mokhtar Belmokhtar's “Signed In Blood Battalion" has very close links to Algeria's secret intelligence services, despite Belmokhtar being officially "sentenced to death" in absentia in the country.

Professor Keenan said it would have been "almost impossible" for militants to have cross 1,000 miles of desert undetected, if they had not been given tacit approval to proceed.

mokhtar belmokhtar

Militant militia leader Moktar Belmokhtar, taken from a video grab

"The desert is riddled with military security checks. It would be almost impossible to get across. And the In Amenas gas field will be one of the most heavily guarded in Algeria.

"But these guys seem to have wandered in and helped themselves. That has to be explained."

Professor Keenan suggested there is wide speculation that Algerian intelligence services were planning a small-scale terror attack in Algeria, to warn the West about the repercussions of military action in Mali.

But Belmokhtar's group has turned on them because the government allowed the French military to use Algerian airspace to bomb Mail.

"I am certain that the security services were planning a very small, false-flag terror attack in Algeria so they could turn around to the rest of the world and say ‘We told you so, if you attack Mali they'll be terror attacks across the region. We are right, we control this region’. They have allowed attacks like that for 20 years.

"It's a very nasty regime, and that would be absolutely typical of them. I think this group were possibly being allowed to get across the country, because the Algerian security services thought they could do something minor, shoot up a bus, or a police station or something.

"That could explain why they had free access across the country. But I think the worm turned, I think they decided to turn against the Algerian Security Services and hit the country hard.

Professor Keenan believes the group is almost certainly led by Belmokhtar, who has the nickname '”the one-eyed prince”.

Belmokhtar was said to have been killed last year by rebel groups in northern Mali, but he has apparently claimed responsibility for the attack in a video message.

algeria

In Amenas Gas Field in Algeria, which is extremely isolated

Experts believe the raid on the gas field must have been planned for many months before the French offensive in Mali began.

Professor Keenan told HuffPost UK: "We know that Mokhtar Belmokhtar left Mali two or three weeks ago so it is certainly likely to be him leading this. It fits his style, his means, his experience, he know the area inside out. I'm sure he's not there himself but it's his men.

"Algerians believe their government has been absolutely treacherous, giving France the right to use their airspace to go to Mali. This group were incensed; I've been speaking to contacts within Algeria, who are off this planet with rage.

"The Algerians actually didn't have much choice; they couldn't turn round and say 'no' to France. But there's a lot of government anti-Western propaganda on TV, it keeps the rank and file happy. But the government are doing very different things behind closed doors, the people are realising this.

"Now, I suspect there will be a monumental reaction from the man on the street. They will be immediately suspicious about this incident, they will either believe it is an inside job or they will feel the intelligence service have failed to stop terrorist coming into their country, damaging our country."

algeria

An Algerian military truck drives past a road sign indicating the city of In Amenas

Professor Keenan believes the attack will have a monumental long-term effect on the politics of the region, long after the last rescued captives have departed from the country.

"The Algerian response seems to have been extraordinary, arrogant, bullish. They have gone in, boots and all, because they were really caught by this. They had to hit back hard.

"There will be massive repercussions behind closed doors, especially for the intelligence services. This is the most serious thing that has happened in Algeria for a very, very long time.

"They have always guaranteed the safety of foreigners, there's never been an attack on an oil installation. This is unprecedented and they don't know how to react."

Loading Slideshow...
  • An unidentified rescued hostage speaks to the media in a hospital Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Assiaciated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • Unidentified rescued hostages pose for the media in Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Associated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • Algerian special police unit officers secure the hospital in Ain Amenas, Algeria, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, two days after the start of the terrorist attack at a gas plant. The hostage crisis in the remote desert of Algeria is not over, Britain said Friday, after an Algerian raid on the gas plant to wipe out Islamist militants and free their captives from at least 10 countries unleashed bloody chaos. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)

  • An unidentified rescued hostage receives treatment in a hospital in Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Associated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • An unidentified rescued hostage speaks to the media in a hospital in Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Associated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. Algerian officials scrambled Thursday Jan. 17, 2013 for a way to end an armed standoff deep in the Sahara desert with Islamic militants who have taken dozens of foreigners hostage, turning to tribal Algerian Tuareg leaders for talks and contemplating an international force. The group claiming responsibility — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — says it has captured 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in the surprise attack Wednesday on the Ain Amenas gas plant. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara. (AP Photo/SITE Intel Group) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS PICTURE. MANDATORY CREDIT: SITE Intel Group

  • This April 19, 2005 photo released by Statoil via NTB scanpix, shows the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. As Algerian army helicopters clattered overhead deep in the Sahara desert, Islamist militants hunkered down for the night in the natural gas complex they had assaulted Wednesday morning, killing two people and taking dozens of foreigners hostage in what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/Kjetil Alsvik, Statoil via NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT

  • This April 19, 2005 photo released by Statoil via NTB scanpix, shows the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. As Algerian army helicopters clattered overhead deep in the Sahara desert, Islamist militants hunkered down for the night in the natural gas complex they had assaulted Wednesday morning, killing two people and taking dozens of foreigners hostage in what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/Kjetil Alsvik, Statoil via NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT

  • JGC Corporation, or Nikki Manager of public relations Takeshi Endo, foreground, answers reporters' questions following Wednesday's attack at a natural gas complex in Algeria which involves the company's workers, at its headquarters in Yokohama, near Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. A militant group that claimed responsibility said 41 foreigners were being held after the assault on one of oil-rich Algeria's energy facilities. Two foreigners were killed. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

  • Helge Lund

    Statoil Chief Executive Helge Lund answers questions about the situation in the gas field, jointly operated by BP, the Norwegian energy company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrachfield along with Japanese company JGC Corp., in Ain Amenas in Algeria during a press briefing in Stavanger, Norway, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. In a desert standoff deep in the Sahara, the Algerian army ringed the natural gas complex where Islamist militants hunkered down with dozens of hostages Wednesday night after a rare attack that appeared to be the first violent shock wave from the French intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/NTB Scanpix, Kent Skibstad) NORWAY OUT

  • Helge Lund

    Statoil Chief Executive Helge Lund answers questions about the situation in the gas field, jointly operated by BP, the Norwegian energy company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrachfield along with Japanese company JGC Corp., in Ain Amenas in Algeria during a press briefing in Stavanger, Norway, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. In a desert standoff deep in the Sahara, the Algerian army ringed the natural gas complex where Islamist militants hunkered down with dozens of hostages Wednesday night after a rare attack that appeared to be the first violent shock wave from the French intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/NTB Scanpix, Kent Skibstad) NORWAY OUT

  • STATOIL

    Statoil spokesman Ole Anders Skauby, centre right, talks to TV reporters outside Scandic Bergen Airport hotel where a drop-in center is established for relatives of hostages involved in the situation in Algeria. Militants are holding a number of foreigners hostages in the Sahara desert in revenge for Algeria's support of French efforts to remove Islamists from control of neighboring northern Mali. (AP Photo / Hakon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT

  • An unidentified rescued hostage receives treatment in a hospital Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Assiaciated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • Residents of Ain Amenas, Algeria, gather outside the hospital trying to get information concerning relatives wounded during the terrorist attack at the gas plant, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. The hostage crisis in the remote desert of Algeria is not over, Britain said Friday, after an Algerian raid on the gas plant to wipe out Islamist militants and free their captives from at least 10 countries unleashed bloody chaos. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)

  • Screen shot 2013-01-18 at 14

  • Screen shot 2013-01-18 at 14

  • Screen shot 2013-01-18 at 14