A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Monday, December 28, 2009

AQIM Responsible for Kidnapping Italian Couple in Mauritania

Al-Qaeda's offshoot in the Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the December 19th kidnapping of two Italians in eastern Mauritania (see picture). Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released an audiotape stating that the group has seized the couple in retaliation against what they called "crimes of the Italian government in Afghanistan and Iraq." AQIM has been active in recent months claiming several kidnappings mostly against foreign tourists and aid workers in the Sahel region. In addition to Eastern Mauritania, northern Mali has also been theater to AQIM's operations. In November, AQIM claimed the kidnapping of a French national, and Malian authorities believe that three Spanish aid workers that went missing in Mauritania are held in Mali by AQIM.

Over the past two years, AQIM has largely demanded ransom money in exchange for the hostages, and it is largely unclear what specific political demands the group has beyond the anti-US foreign policy brandishments in their public statements. The border between Mali and Mauritania are rife with lawlessness and corruption, which complicates the task of policing a largely nomadic territory. Some even advance possible government involvement in facilitating drug smuggling and explicit involvement in the kidnappings.

UPDATE 1/1/10: French daily Le Monde reports that AQIM has demanded a $7 million (4.8 million Euros) ransom in exchange for the three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in northern Mali. The demands came pursuant to intense efforts by Mali's president Amadou Toumani Toure, who has dispatched his consul in Saudi Arabia, and former Touareg rebel Iyad Ag Gali, north of Mali to the border region with Algeria where the hostages are believed to be held captive.

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