Al-Qaida has taken responsibility for the November kidnapping of a Frenchman and three Spaniards working for the Catalan organization Barcelona-Acciò Solidaria.
They were seized in Mali and Mauritania by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. Claiming responsibility for the action via a video-tape, a spokesman announced that France and Spain will be informed of their demands for hostage release.
Later reports indicate that AQIM has made assurances that the hostages remain in good health and will be treated according to Islamic law.
French security agent kidnapped by insurgents in Somalia last month said he escaped while his captors slept, then walked five hours through one of the most dangerous cities in the world to safety at the country’s presidential palace.
Marc Aubriere, who was seized along with another agent in July 14, denied reports that he killed any of his captors during his escape. Mr. Aubriere and another agent were kidnapped from a hotel in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, then split up between the rebel groups al-Shabab and its ally Hizbul-Islam. The second hostage was still being held.
Hope that talks with Islamist rebels in Somalia might lead to the rapid release of two French agents has receded amid conflicting reports over the status of negotiations. The pair, French defence officials on a mission to support Somalia’s transition government, were seized from a Mogadishu hotel room and are believed to be in the hands of the rebel militia. A senior member of the Shebab proclaimed that the French pair would be charged with spying and tried under Islamic law in a Sharia court. Some locals have suggested the hostage-taking is in retaliation to a recent trial against Somali piracy in Paris.
Two French nationals kidnapped after gunmen stormed into a hotel in Mogadishu are now being held by a Somali al-Qaeda-linked group, according to reports. The two French security advisers will be tried under Sharia law, claims an official from their captors, the Islamic al-Shabab militia. The unnamed spokesperson said they would be tried for spying and “conspiracy against Islam”.
Reuters, citing rebel sources, said the hostages were initially given to Hizbul Islam, one of the Islamist groups fighting the Somali government. They had handed one hostage over to al Shabaab earlier in the week, and the other on Thursday night. The men were abducted at the Sahafi Hotel in the capital while on a mission to train the Somali government forces that are fighting Islamist forces. Al Shabaab — which is on the United States’ terror list — wants to overthrow Somalia’s transitional government and implement a more radical version of sharia.
al-Qaeda’s North African wing has threatened to kill a British tourist taken hostage in the Sahara unless the radical cleric and terrorism suspect Abu Qatada is released within 20 days. The kidnapped man was among four European tourists seized in January after their convoy was ambushed near the border of Niger and Mali, where they had been after attending a Tuareg festival.
Abu Qatada, once described by a Spanish judge as “Osama bin Laden’s righthand man in Europe”, is being held in Britain pending deportation to his native Jordan, where in 1999 he was convicted in his absence of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to life imprisonment. The charges related to bombings at the American school and the Jerusalem hotel in Jordan. He was convicted a second time in 2000 over a plot to bomb tourists. Abu Qatada is one of the highest profile terror suspects held in Britain today, and when Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, signed his deportation order on 18 February she said: “I am keen to deport this dangerous individual as soon as I can.”
“We demand that Britain release Sheikh Abu Qatada, who is unjustly [held], for the release of its British citizen. We give it 20 days as of the issuance of this statement,” the group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said in a posting on an Islamist website yesterday. “When this period expires, the Mujahideen will kill the British hostage.”
The issue highlights the difficulty how to deal with dangerous Islamist prisoners and with al-Qaeda threats from outside Europe, while maintaining security in the UK and without endangering any hostages.
Freed Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay left Mali yesterday aboard a Canadian government plane bound for Germany this weekend to be reunited with their families. The two men were freed by their al-Qaeda-linked captors after four months of captivity.
Two Europeans separately captured by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were simultaneously let go. Reports from Algeria suggest that an unnamed European government paid AQIM factions a multimillion-dollar ransom. While this transaction has not been officially confirmed, countries such as Germany and Austria have been reported to have made similar payments in parallel cases.
Before the release, the Canadian government had been mounting a massive diplomatic effort and rescue operation in West Africa. Officials in Ottawa said Canada paid no ransom.
Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal region have opted to delay plans to kill Canadian hostage Beverly Giesbrecht, but her captors are apparently still holding out for a ransom before releasing her. The abduction of Giesbrecht, 53, has become a sensitive issue, and tribesmen of the embattled area are reluctant to speak on the matter openly. However, some locals said that while there is no hard information about her release, it could come at any time.
In a video released last month, the West Vancouver resident said her captors warned that they would behead her if their demands for $375,000 USD weren’t met by the end of March. That deadline was later extended to April 6. The Canadian embassy in Islamabad has been working behind the scenes with Pakistani authorities to help secure her release.
The Islamic militants holding a Canadian hostage at the Afghan-Pakistani border region have extended the deadline for their ransom demands to be met, according to an associate of the Taliban commander thought to be in control of her. In a video released last month, West Vancouver resident Beverly Giesbrecht, 53, said her captors would behead her if their demands for $350,000 (U.S.) weren’t met by the end of March. She was seized at gunpoint in the Bannu region of northern Pakistan in November.
Ahead of the third anniversary of the 7/7 London attacks in which four suicide bombers killed 52 people, an Islamic website ‘muslimyouth.net’ backing suicide bombers has reportedly received a 35,000-pound grant from the British Government. The website carries dozens of hate messages by fanatics on its ‘support group” site. One of the members wrote of suicide missions: “If you can blow dozens of people up at the same time, great, absolutely great.” And, in another similar message a member praised a beheading video of British hostage Ken Bigley, saying: “I like the beheading videos of the prisoners of war ” especially the Daniel Pearl and Ken Bigley one,” reported The Sun.
More than a month after their disappearance, the fate of two Austrian hostages who were captured while touring the Tunisian desert remains shrouded in uncertainty. But the case has been seen to expose the difficulty of controlling the vast expanses of the Sahara as al-Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate seeks to make its presence felt across the Maghreb. The group, which was blamed for a number of spectacular suicide bombings in Algeria last year, has raised its profile once more after claiming the kidnapping. It is now thought to be holding Wolfgang Ebner, 51, and Andrea Kloiber, 43, at an undisclosed location in northern Mali. According to statements posted on the internet, the kidnappers have demanded that militants held in Algeria and Tunisia be freed in return for the release of the Austrians. They have twice deferred a deadline, stating most recently that their request must be met by 6 April. There have been unconfirmed reports that the group is also asking for a ransom. By Aidan Lewis