4 January 2013

Algeria: Kidnapped Algerian Diplomats in New Terror Tape

Algiers and Nouakchott — Three Algerian diplomats kidnapped by terrorists in Gao last April appeared in a new video posted online Tuesday (January 1st) by Mauritania's al-Akhbar.

The hostages are shown sitting on the ground surrounded by their armed captors from al-Qaeda splinter group Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

"We call on the President of the Republic, Mr Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to find a solution to our situation by accepting the terms of the group so that we can come back to our families," one captive said.

The hostage added: "We had the opportunity to leave the city of Gao before we were kidnapped, but on the orders of the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we stayed to offer services to the diaspora."

Another of the Algerian diplomats pleaded, "Get us out of this crisis and enable us to come back to our families."

As far as the Algerian government is concerned, discretion remains the watchword. On Wednesday, it said that contact with the kidnappers was being maintained through various intermediaries.

Algerian foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani refused to comment on the video of the hostages but said that authorities were "endeavouring to secure the release of the Algerian nationals".

Soon after the Algerians were abducted in Gao, they appeared in a video aired by Al Jazeera, in which the MUJAO claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The video showed the Algerian diplomats in a vehicle with blank expressions, but apparently in good health.

One month later, the MUJAO issued a ransom demand. They wanted Algeria to release prisoners, as well as a 15m euro ransom.

Three of the hostages were freed in July.

On August 26th, another video released by MUJAO showed one of the remaining hostages asking the Algerian authorities to save his life. But the terror group later executed the diplomat, identified as Taher Touati.

The wife of hostage Mourad Guessas has appealed to the terrorists to free the diplomats. She said that they were merely "innocent, ordinary civil servants" and urged President Bouteflika to work to free them, adding they were kidnapped while in the "service of the Algerian state".

Algeria has staunchly opposed the terrorists' ransom demands, with Algerian Maghreb and African Affairs Minister Abdelkader Messahel saying last October that there would be "no negotiations with terrorists".

During a session with Parliament's foreign affairs committee last week, Foreign Minister Mourad Medecli revealed that both the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar al-Din were mediating the release of the Algerian diplomats kidnapped in Mali.

Last April, President Bouteflika reportedly approved a large military operation to free the hostages, according to a December article by El Khabar. The operation was to be conducted by a few hundred to 3,000 soldiers along with Special Forces, fighter jets and attack helicopters.

El Khabar said that the goal was to free the Algerian diplomats and strike a serious blow to the armed extremists who had taken over northern Mali.

The Algerian military operation was cancelled at the last minute.

By Walid Ramzi in Algiers and Bakari Gueye in Nouakchott for Magharebia - 04/01/13

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