The terror strike came without warning Wednesday morning, when an estimated 20 gunmen first attacked a bus carrying workers escorted by two cars carrying security teams. At least one worker was killed. The terrorists moved on to the residential compound, where they were holed up with the American and other Western hostages, including Norwegian, French, British, and Japanese nationals.
The FBI has begun gathering evidence and conducting interviews as they lay the groundwork for a criminal investigation and possible future prosecution in connection with the taking of American hostages. A squad of FBI counterterrorism agents in the New York office, which has responsibility for Western Europe and Africa, started work on the case Wednesday. As the lead agency, the FBI is gathering intelligence from other U.S. agencies and from other countries.
Mr. Marlboro: Kidnapper, Smuggler
The alleged mastermind of the attack, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is a rogue al Qaeda leader who also runs an African organized crime network that reportedly has made tens of millions of dollars in ransom from kidnappings and smuggling. He is known as Mr. Marlboro because of his success smuggling diamonds, drugs and cigarettes. Officials think it unlikely that Belmohktar would actually be in the middle of the hostage situation, but would be calling the shots from his base in Mali more than 1,000 miles away.
Belmokhtar fought in Afghanistan alongside the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1990s, and lost an eye. He was formerly associated with al Qaeda's North African affiliate, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and was said to be a liaison with al Qaeda's international leadership. Belmokhtar split with AQIM late last year over what other Islamist militants considered his preference for lucre over jihad. He remains affiliated with al Qaeda, however, and is now heading a breakaway group.
Luis Martinez of ABC News contributed to this report.