5 February 2011
Insurgents operating as al Qaeda’s north African wing have been active in the Sahara desert and have kidnapped several foreigners, but until now most of their activities have been in areas of the desert south of Algeria’s borders.
“It seems that this is a group which was freed from prison a few months ago and which then joined al Qaeda and has now kidnapped this Italian woman,” the Algerian security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
The woman was kidnapped on Wednesday night in the desert south of the Algerian town of Djanet, the official APS news agency reported, citing an unnamed source in the local authority.
It said a major operation, involving security services and the military, was under way to find the woman.
The kidnappers allowed the woman to use a satellite telephone to call her tour operator, who then notified the authorities, the agency reported.
The Algerian security source said the hostage was a 56-year-old woman and she was in an area of the desert frequented by tourists when she was seized.
She was kidnapped along with her guide and a cook, but they were released, the source said.
Al Qaeda’s local branch, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has for years targeted Westerners for kidnap in the Sahara, mostly releasing them in exchange for ransoms or prisoner releases though some hostages have been killed.
The group said last month it was responsible for the abduction of two Frenchmen found dead after a failed rescue attempt in Niger.
It is also holding seven hostages, including five French nationals, who were kidnapped from a uranium-mining town in Niger last September.
It killed French tourist Michel Germaneau in July last year after kidnapping him in Niger three months earlier. It also killed British man Edwin Dyer in 2009 after kidnapping him on the border between Niger and Mali.
AQIM emerged out of a long conflict between security forces and Islamist militants in the populous north of Algeria, along the Mediterranean coast.
Under pressure from Algerian security forces in the north, it moved some of its operations to the desert area straddling Niger, Mali, Algeria and Mauritania where the vast expanses and porous borders have provided it with a safe haven.
It is unusual for the group to carry out attacks inside Algeria, but several Western countries changed their travel advice last year to urge visitors to exercise caution if going to some traditional tourist areas in the Algerian desert.
- Gunmen kidnap Italian woman tourist in Algeria (reuters.com)
- Africa News Roundup: Niger Elections, Algeria Kidnapping, AQIM Plot in Mauritania, Sudan Protests, and More (sahelblog.wordpress.com)
- Sahara tourist ‘kidnapped by al-Qaida’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Factbox: Foreigners held in Africa (reuters.com)
- Al Qaeda suspects killed in Mauritania car blast – Reuters (news.google.com)
- Ransom’ for Canadian diplomats benefited al-Qaeda: WikiLeaks (arcanaintellego.wordpress.com)