With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the despicable terrorist attack in Algeria and the tragic events of the last few days.
It is with great sadness that I have to confirm that we now know three British nationals have been killed and that a further three are believed to be dead, as is a Colombian national who was resident in Britain.
I am sure the whole House will join with me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all of those who have lost loved ones.
Mr Speaker, first let me update the House on developments over the weekend and the steps we have taken to get survivors home.
And then let me begin to set out how we will work with our allies to overcome the terrorist scourge in this region.
The Algerian Prime Minister told me on Saturday afternoon that the Algerian military had completed their offensive and that the terrorist incident was over.
Since then Algerian forces have undertaken a further operation to clear the site of potential explosives and booby traps.
This is still being completed and it will allow our Embassy-led team to access the site.
It is important to put on record the scale of what happened.
There is still some uncertainty around the precise facts, but we believe that in total there were some 800 employees working at the In Amenas site at the time of the attack…
…about 135 of whom were foreign nationals
At least 12 were killed with at least a further 20 unaccounted for and feared dead.
The Algerian Prime Minister has said today 37 foreign hostages were killed.
The number of terrorists was over 30. Most were killed during the incident but a small number are in Algerian custody.
Our immediate priorities have been the safety of the British nationals involved, the evacuation of the wounded and freed hostages, and the repatriation of those killed.
Working closely with BP - and side by side with our US, Japanese and Norwegian partners - a swift international evacuation effort has been completed.
The last British flights out on Saturday night, brought not only the remaining freed Britons but also Germans, Americans, New Zealanders, Croats, Romanians and Portuguese.
And as of yesterday all 22 British nationals caught up in the attack, who either escaped or were freed, had been safely returned to Britain, to be debriefed by the police and reunited with their families.
Now, our most vital work is bringing home those who died.
An international team of British, American and Norwegian experts, is in close cooperation with the Algerian Ministry of Justice, undertaking the task of formally identifying their bodies.
We want this process to happen as swiftly as possible, but it will involve some intensive forensic and policing work - and so may take some time.
Mr Speaker, throughout the last five days, the British Ambassador to Algeria and staff from across government and beyond have been working around the clock to support British citizens and their families – and I am sure the House would like to join me in thanking them for their efforts.
We should also recognise all that the Algerians have done to confront this attack.
I am sure the House will understand the challenges that Algeria faced in dealing with over 30 terrorists bent on killing innocent people in a large and extremely remote and dangerous industrial complex.
This would have been a most demanding task for security forces anywhere in the world and we should acknowledge the resolve shown by the Algerians in undertaking it.
Above all the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists.
CONFRONTING THIS TERRORIST THREAT
Mr Speaker, many questions remain about this whole incident.
But one thing is clear.
This attack underlines the threat that terrorist groups pose to the countries and peoples of that region – and to our citizens, our companies and our interests too.
Four years ago the principal threat from Islamist extremism came from the Afghanistan and Pakistan region.
A huge amount has been done to address and reduce the scale of that threat.
Whereas at one point three quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against the UK had links to that region today this has reduced to less than half.
But at the same time Al Qaeda franchises have grown in Yemen, Somalia and parts of North Africa.
The changing nature of the threat we face was highlighted in our National Security Strategy in 2010 and it shaped the decisions that we made.
While of course there were difficult decisions to make, we increased our investment in our Special Forces, Cyber Security, and key intelligence capabilities while also increasing our investment in fragile and broken states.
In North Africa, as in Somalia, terrorist activity has been fed by hostage ransoms and wider criminality.
To date, the threat it poses has been to these North African states themselves and, of course, to Western interests in those states.
But as it escalates it is also becoming a magnet for jihadists from other countries who share this poisonous ideology.
Indeed there are already reports of non-Algerian nationals involved in this attack.
Mr Speaker, more than ever this evolving threat demands an international response.
It must be one that is tough, intelligent, patient…
…and based on strong international partnerships.
First, we should be clear that this murderous violence requires a strong security response.
We must be realistic and hard headed about the threats we face.
Our role is to support the Governments of the region in their resolve to combat this menace, as many are doing at great cost.
So we will work closely with the Algerian government to learn the lessons of this attack, and to deepen our security cooperation.
And we will contribute British intelligence and counter-terrorism assets to an international effort to find and dismantle the network that planned and ordered the brutal assault at In Amenas.
We must work right across the region.
In Nigeria, we will continue our close security partnership with the Government as it confronts Islamist-inspired terrorism.
In Libya, we will continue to support the new Government on the urgent priority of building new and effective security forces.
And In Mali, we will work with the Malians themselves, with their neighbours and with our international allies to prevent a new terrorist haven developing on Europe’s doorstep.
Mr Speaker, we support the French intervention that took place at the request of the Malian Government and we are working to ensure that an African-led military force can - with the appropriate training and support - help to ensure Mali’s long-term stability.
That support will include the EU Training Mission that was agreed by EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels last week.
Second, our tough security response must be matched by an intelligent political response.
Al Qaeda franchises thrive where there are weak political institutions, political instability and the failure to address long-standing political grievances.
So we must match a strong security response with a political approach that addresses these issues.
We must support effective and accountable government back people in their search for a job and a voice and work with the UN and our international partners to solve long-standing political conflicts and grievances.
Third, we must be patient and resolute.
Together with our partners in the region, we are in the midst of a generational struggle against an ideology which is an extreme distortion of the Islamic faith, and which holds that mass murder and terror are not only acceptable but necessary.
We must tackle this poisonous thinking at home and abroad and resist the ideologues' attempt to divide the world into a clash of civilisations.
The underlying conflicts and grievances that are exploited by terrorists are in many cases long-standing and deep.
And, of course, the building blocks of democracy the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, the rights of minorities, free media and association, and a proper place in society for the army which are a big part of the solution all take a long time to put in place.
But this patient, intelligent but tough approach is the best way to defeat terrorism and to ensure our own security.
We must pursue it with an iron resolve.
And I will use our chairmanship of the G8 this year to make sure this issue of terrorism and how we respond to it is right at the top of the agenda.
In sum, we must frustrate the terrorists with our security beat them militarily address the poisonous narrative they feed on; close down the ungoverned space in which they thrive; and deal with the grievances they use to garner support.
And I commend this statement to the House.