Saturday, February 21, 2009

AQIM Releases Pictures of Hostages Kidnapped in Niger

Via Yahoo! News (AP) -

Al-Qaeda's North African branch has released pictures it claims are of four European tourists it kidnapped last month in Niger, a US group which monitors Islamist websites said.

SITE Intelligence Group said late Wednesday that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had released a written statement and photos of a Swiss couple, a German woman and a British man they say they are holding hostage.

The statement followed an earlier audio message from the group's spokesman, Salah Abu Mohammed, claiming the kidnapping in January of the four Europeans as well as of two Canadian diplomats abducted in December.

One photograph shows a haggard-looking man with tangled hair and closed eyes seated next to a turbaned woman whose face is blurred. Another shows a turbaned woman, again with blurred face, while a third shows a distressed-looking balding man also with eyes closed.

In all three photographs, turbaned armed men whose faces are covered appear in the background in what seems to be a desert terrain.

Al-Jazeera television reported late Tuesday that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said it had seized the two Canadians, one of whom is a UN envoy, in December, and the four tourists in January.

The abductions marked the first incursion by Osama bin Laden's jihadist network into the West African state of Niger.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seeks to unify armed Islamist groups in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco with emerging groups in countries bordering the Sahara. They include Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and Eritrea.

The group claimed a series of deadly suicide bombings in Algeria last year.

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