Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mali: Terrorists Kidnap French National

Nouakchott — The latest abduction of a French citizen in southwest Mali raises questions as to whether terrorists are now able to reach areas their beyond.

The Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed responsibility for kidnapping a French national in southwest Mali on Wednesday (November 21st), AFP reported.

"With God's blessing, the mujahedin are holding a Frenchman, whose country wants to lead armies against the Muslim people", said Abdoul Hicham, a top leader in the MUJAO.

He did not specify whether 61-year-old Gilberto Rodriguez Leal had been snatched by his group or by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters.

The hostage was reportedly abducted Tuesday in the Kayes region after entering the country by car from Mauritania.

The kidnapping near the Mauritanian-Malian border has raised new fears about the safety of Western nationals in the Sahel, particularly in view of the on-going military preparations to oust terrorists from northern Mali.

"This act makes an urgent military intervention inevitable, given that diplomatic solutions and peace negotiations with some armed groups won't solve the problem of repeated kidnappings, which will continue unless the bases where these jihadist groups are hiding Western nationals are destroyed," said terrorism analyst Sid Ahmed Ould Tfeil.

The main question at this juncture is whether terrorists are now capable of reaching areas not controlled by them, he said.

Tfeil fears the terrorists are capable of following through on their threats, regardless of tight security measures and a high level of alert among populations.

While the MUJAO claimed responsibility for the abduction, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Thursday said that the identity of the perpetrators was not confirmed.

"The French citizen was kidnapped by a jihadist group in northern Mali, but we haven't yet identified the group," Fabius said.

"We have to be cautious until we learn about the circumstances of his kidnapping and know whether he was kidnapped by a group that wants to sell him or was kidnapped directly by individuals in northern Mali," he said.

The French minister reiterated his warning to French nationals about the danger of traveling to West Africa.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande told AFP that "the kidnapping of a French citizen in southeastern Mali would not pressure" his country.

"We will do all that we can to find our citizens", he said at a joint press conference with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in Paris.

"We'll work in the framework of UN. We will also support logistical and training operations in the European framework if the Africans decide to intervene, which is their intention right now."

The kidnapping brings the total number of French citizens captured by jihadist groups to seven.

Yahya Abou El Hamame, AQIM's "emir of the Sahel", warned last month that any attempt to oust the Islamists from northern Mali by military force would put the lives of six French hostages in danger.

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