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.