LONDON (AP) — Britain and Algeria have agreed to a security partnership that could see greater intelligence-sharing and planning for future crises, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday on a visit to the North African country.
Cameron's trip to Algeria — where he was accompanied by Sir John Sawers, the head of Britain's international spy agency MI6 — followed the deadly Jan. 16 attack on the Ain Amenas natural gas plant. That attack led to a four-day siege on the complex by Algerian forces. At least 37 hostages and 29 militants died.
At a press conference following talks with his Algerian counterpart Abdelmalek Sellal, Cameron stressed the importance of a "tough and intelligent" response to the growing threat from Islamist militants in the region.
"Both Britain and Algeria are countries that have suffered from terrorism and we understand each other's suffering," he said. "What we have agreed is a strengthened partnership that looks at how we combat terrorism and how we improve security of this region.
"This should be about sharing our perspectives, about the risks and dangers that there are, but also sharing expertise."
Britain was among several countries with citizens held hostage in the Ain Amenas crisis that was not told in advance of Algeria's plan to storm the gas plant.
The security partnership struck Wednesday between Cameron and Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika focuses on cooperation.
Senior security, military and intelligence advisers — led by U.K. national security adviser Kim Darroch and his Algerian counterpart — will examine how Britain and Algeria can strengthen intelligence-sharing and analysis in response to threats in their countries.
They also will look more broadly at threats in North Africa and the Sahel, the region stretching across the Sahara Desert.
An al-Qaida-affiliated group claimed responsibility for the attack on Ain Amenas, and a number of al-Qaida-linked Islamist extremist groups operate in the Sahara, including a group known as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, which originated in Algeria and is active in northern Mali.
Earlier this month, French forces intervened to stop the extremists' move toward Mali's capital.
The British-Algeria partnership will look at sharing expertise in areas such as securing borders, countering roadside bombs and tackling extremist propaganda. Britain also has invited Algeria to take part in a joint contingency planning exercise to share experiences in crisis response.
Talks will take place in the spring, with the teams of advisers due to report back to their respective governments over the summer.
Cameron's visit was the first from a serving British prime minister since Algeria gained independence in 1962. On his way to Algeria, he said he wanted to help the country "help itself" amid a growing threat from al-Qaida-linked groups in the region, according to Britain's Press Association.
Prior to his talks with Sellal, Cameron laid a wreath at the Martyrs Monument, a memorial overlooking the Bay of Algiers that was built to mark Algeria's war for independence from France between 1954 and 1962.
He also met with staff at the British Embassy in Algiers to thank them for their work during the hostage crisis, which claimed the lives of six Britons.
Beyond the security partnership, Cameron also stressed Britain's desire to strengthen relations with Algeria in areas such as trade, education and the financial sector.
Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd