Magharebia (Washington DC)

21 December 2012

North Africa: Al-Qaeda Hostage Families Plead for Information

Nouakchott — Families of French hostages held by AQIM in the Sahel make a desperate plea for information about the fate of their loved ones.

Gunmen who abducted a Frenchman in northern Nigeria this week probably have links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or to Islamist groups in northern Mali, French President Francois Hollande said Friday (December 21st).

"We have to be firm when it comes to terrorism while at the same time maintaining contacts to free" hostages, he told Europe 1 radio.

On Thursday, a group of around 30 gunmen stormed a residence in the northern Nigerian state of Katsina where expatriate workers were staying, AFP reported. They kidnapped the French engineer, killing a security guard and a neighbour.

The latest abduction brings the total number of French captives in the region to nine.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that the hostages were alive but attempts to free them were "unsuccessful".

"We must also stop this process and to ensure that it will be happened with the best way," he told France Culture radio.

But for hostage families, despair is replacing hope.

The brother of one of the four hostages kidnapped two years ago in Arlit, Niger, by AQMI launched a desperate plea to the kidnappers for information.

"We are addressing you today to tell you that we have received your message, especially the one talking about your openness for negotiations and that you are waiting for the first step to be made by the French government," Clément Legrand said in the November address. "We want to tell you that we, the families, are doing our utmost with the French government and institutions and the French public to push for the launch of real negotiations."

According to terrorism analyst Sayed Ahmed Ould Atefil, "the video serves al-Qaeda, which began to feel that there is no longer a benefit in negotiations".

"With the emergence of this video where hostages' families are talking directly, al-Qaeda will escalate its language and threaten to kill the hostages in order to push the families to put more pressure on the French government," he said. "The families' relatives should be aware that begging al-Qaeda will not work because its fight is against the French government, which is leading an initiative of military intervention in northern Mali."

"Al-Qaeda as well as movements present in northern Mali were never interested in the human angle and will continue to kidnap Western hostages. Therefore the only solution lies in attacking al-Qaeda in its own backyard," he concluded.

The families of Arlit hostages on December 7th launched a joint appeal to the French president to press for more information about the fate of their relatives.

Ould Atefil, however, warned against acceding to terrorists' demands and paying the ransom.

The longer terrorists wait, the more desperate they become, according to analyst Zine El Abidine Ould Mohamed. "Yet if these jihadist movements execute their hostages, they will lose their bargaining chip right before the launch of the military operation against them deep in the desert", he explained.

Ould Mohamed added, "The countries of the hostages will win in the end if they stick to their positions. This will increase the desperation of the terrorists and deprive them of the opportunity to increase their resources on the one hand, and push them toward the abduction of more hostages on the other."

Winning, however, will not be achieved by "giving in to terrorist blackmail", according to Ould Mohamed.

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