Algerian situation made worse by the numbers involved

This situation is particularly complex because of the number of parties involved. The hostages include foreign nationals from several countries, working for various companies.

Information on Aqim and the reported leader of the attacks, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, will be coming from a range of international and Algerian intelligence sources, creating a fluid picture of those involved. What is known is that leaders of this group are battle-hardened (having been involved in the Algerian conflict of the 1990s), and many lower-ranking fighters are willing to die for their cause.

The governments involved may be jostling for primacy over the way the situation is tackled, with a number of approaches to a resolution being discussed. Several of the governments involved have publicly stated that they do not engage directly with terrorists.

Some reports suggest that the militants may have been strapping suicide bomb vests to some of the hostages. But the militants will also be aware that if they remove the hostages from the equation, they also remove their leverage.

Fraser Bomford is the head of intelligence at the risk assessment specialist AKE Ltd