/ 18 February 2009

Al-Qaeda claims abduction of diplomats, tourists

Al-Qaeda’s North Africa network has claimed responsibility for the abduction of two Canadian diplomats, one of them a United Nations envoy, and four European tourists in Niger, al-Jazeera television reported.

”We are happy to bring our Islamic nation the good news of the mujahideen’s success in carrying out two quality operations in Niger,” the group’s spokesperson Salah Abu Mohammed said in an audio tape aired on the Doha-based pan-Arab channel late on Tuesday.

”[The mujahideen] reserves the right to deal with the six captives under Islamic sharia [law],” said Mohammed, speaking for al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb.

His announcement was also posted on al-Jazeera’s website.

Two Canadians, UN envoy to Niger Robert Fowler and his colleague Louis Guay went missing outside Niamey in mid-December along with their driver when returning from a visit to a gold mine operated by Canadian company Semafo.

Earlier this month, Malian sources close to the investigation into the abduction said they had seen an undated video showing the diplomats were still alive.

The sources said the video showed the two diplomats speaking with armed men behind them. The missing driver was not shown.

On January 22, a Swiss couple, an elderly German woman and a British man were returning from a Tuareg cultural festival in Mali when they were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen along the border of Mali and Niger.

Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb claimed several suicide bombings in Algeria last year.

It says it intends to unify armed Islamist groups in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as well as emerging groups in countries bordering the Sahara including Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and Eritrea. — Sapa-AFP