North Africa’s local branch of al-Qaeda denied it has kidnapped three foreign aid workers in Algeria, but confirmed it was behind two kidnappings in Mali, according to a statement carried by a Mauritanian news agency.
The statement, purportedly by al-Qaeda in North Africa, said the group was focusing its efforts against French and Malian interests and had nothing to do with the October kidnapping of Spanish and Italian aid workers in southern Algeria.
The group’s statement was carried out on Thursday by Nouakchott Information Agency, a private news agency, that has carried the group’s statements before, but its veracity could not be independently confirmed.
“We deny all responsibility in the kidnapping of Europeans from the camp in Tindouf,” the statement said, referring to a refugee camp in Algeria for those fleeing the conflict in the Western Sahara, where the local population is agitating for independence from Morocco.
The militant group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a Dutch, Swedish and South African national from a restaurant in Timbuktu the next day. A German national was executed when he refused to get into a waiting truck.
It also claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two French tourists from their hotel room in eastern Mali on the night of November 24 and alleged that they were French spies.
The statement said the kidnappings were carried out in revenge for recent Malian attacks against members of al-Qaeda, as well as France’s aggression in the Sahel region — a possible reference to French military strikes against the militants.
The kidnappings in Mali indicate that the group is moving into areas which it previously had left alone. This comes after the Malian government launched a number of operations against the militant group, in cooperation with France and the United States.
“It is time you learned your lesson and stop killing mujahedin and their families to please the impious crusaders,” the statement said.
The spike in kidnappings in the Sahel region could also be related to competition between different factions of militants.
An Algerian daily last month carried an interview with two captured militants that said three different groups were competing with each other on who could kidnap more foreigners.
AQIM grew out of armed Islamic groups fighting the Algerian government in the 1990s and eventually expanded its operations to the lightly populated empty wastes of the Sahel region where they made money on smuggling and kidnapping.
In 2006, the group announced it had joined al-Qaeda. About 50 Europeans and Canadians have been kidnapped and ransomed by the group, earning it an estimated $130-million in less than a decade. — Sapa-AP