/ 3 June 2009

Al-Qaeda kills British hostage in Mali

Al-Qaeda’s North African wing said on Wednesday it had carried out its threat to kill a British hostage it was holding in the Sahara.

Britain said it had reason to believe the hostage, Edwin Dyer, had been killed and Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the killing as ”a barbaric act of terrorism”.

An official source in Algeria told Reuters: ”The Briton, according to our information, has been killed by Aqim (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in Mali.”

The group had said it would kill the Briton if the British government did not release Abu Qatada, a Jordanian Islamist it is holding in prison.

Dyer was killed on May 31 after a second deadline for the group’s demands expired, it said in a statement on a website used by al-Qaeda-linked groups.

”The British captive was killed so that he, and with him the British state, may taste a tiny portion of what innocent Muslims taste every day at the hands of the Crusader and Jewish coalition to the east and to the west,” the statement said.

”Let Gordon Brown and his aggressor government reap the fruits of their thoughtless policies towards Muslims.”

The announcement of the killing came as United States President Barack Obama headed to the Middle East hoping to start mending US ties with the Islamic world in a speech that will tackle issues including extremist violence.

The British Foreign Office said Dyer was kidnapped on the border between Niger and Mali in late January, but declined to give any more details about him.

Music festival
According to the Times in London, Dyer was one of a group of European tourists kidnapped after attending the African music ”Festival in the Desert” near Timbuktu.

Aqim has claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Canadian diplomats and four European tourists in the past five months. The two diplomats and two of the tourists were freed in Mali in April, leaving Dyer and a Swiss citizen in captivity.

Last month, Algerian media reported Aqim was demanding €10-million in exchange for Dyer and the Swiss national.

Brown said in a statement: ”We have strong reason to believe that a British citizen, Edwin Dyer, has been murdered by an al-Qaeda cell in Mali. I utterly condemn this appalling and barbaric act of terrorism.”

Brown said the killing reinforced Britain’s commitment to confront terrorism.

”It strengthens our determination never to concede to the demands of terrorists, nor to pay ransoms. I want those who would use terror against British citizens to know beyond doubt that we and our allies will pursue them relentlessly, and that they will meet the justice they deserve,” he said.

”I have regularly discussed this case with the president of Mali — he knows that he will have every support in rooting out al-Qaeda from his country.”

The Swiss Foreign Ministry condemned the killing as an ”extreme violation of human dignity” and said it was working with President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali to set the Swiss hostage free.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Britain was working with Swiss officials to secure the release of the Swiss hostage ”without substantive concession”.

Abu Qatada, named by a Spanish judge as the right-hand man in Europe of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, has been held in Britain since 2005. He denies belonging to the group.

Britain has described him as a ”significant international terrorist” but said it does not have enough evidence to put him on trial.

Britain’s highest court ruled in February he could be deported to Jordan despite fears he may be tortured there.

Analysts say the Sahara desert has become increasingly insecure and the lines between ideology and criminality have become blurred.

Tuareg rebellions are simmering in both Mali and Niger, Islamist groups are seeking to spread their influence south from Algeria and there is a long tradition of trafficking in cigarettes, weapons and people. — Reuters