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Statoil appoints heavyweight group to probe In Amenas attack

By Patrick McLoughlin in London

February 26, 2013 - Norway's Statoil said February 26 it has formed a heavyweight team headed by a retired Norwegian intelligence chief, with advisers including a former CIA acting director, to probe the January attack on its In Amenas gas plant in Algeria which led to widespread casualties and a production shutdown.

"We will investigate to determine the chain of events before, during and after the terrorist attack in order to learn and further improve within the areas of security and emergency preparedness," said Statoil chairman Svein Rennemo.

"It has been important for us to obtain external expertise on terrorism and security that will contribute to this work. In addition we will use the investigating expertise to be found in the company," Rennemo added.

Statoil also said that in parallel with the investigation it would review its overall international security systems and emergency preparedness, signaling a serious review of its global operations.

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"The purpose of the internal audit is to give the board of directors a wider basis from which to consider learning, actions and plans within the areas of security and emergency preparedness following the conclusion of the investigation," Statoil said.

The Statoil statement did not address whether it might be reconsidering its continued presence in Algeria, as some analysts have suggested it might do.

The 67% Norwegian state-owned group has in previous statements since the attack reaffirmed its commitment to its Algerian operations.

The announcement of the investigation tea,, chaired by Lieutenant General Torgeir Hagen, a retired Norwegian intelligence chief, comes after Statoil over the weekend announced that limited production had restarted at In Amenas.

The plant, located near the Libyan border in the east of Algeria, is operated by joint venture partners BP, Statoil and state-owned Algerian energy company Sonatrach and produces about 11.5% of Algeria's total gas output of some 78 Bcm/year.

Statoil said in a statement on February 23 that the In Amenas facilities initiated a limited production startup February 22 but gave no output levels.

It said the plant's first train had restarted, but did not indicate when the other two trains would be in operation or when expatriate staff would be returning.

Among those joining General Hagen's investigation team is Adrian Fulcher, a former director of counterterrorism in the British Diplomatic Service.

Additionally there will be experts advising the investigation team, including former CIA acting director John E. McLaughlin and former US deputy defense secretary John Hamre.

Another adviser is Thorstein Skiaker, a retired Lieutenant General and former head of the Norwegian Military's Joint Headquarters, NATO's headquarters in Norway and KFOR in Kosovo.

Statoil said the investigation team will evaluate risk and security arrangements and emergency preparedness at the plant immediately before the attack.

The investigation team is due to deliver its final report to Statoil's board by September 15 and the results would be made public.

The first production train at In Amenas, which accounts for 35% of the gas plant's 9 billion cubic meters/year sales gas production capacity, was reactivated on February 22.

Statoil said over the weekend that during the production start-up phase the facilities would be operated by Sonatrach on behalf of the joint venture.

A Statoil spokesman also said his group would not comment on remarks made February 24 by Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal that production at the second train of the In Amenas plant would restart in April.

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