Al Qaeda’s North African wing has extended a deadline for the life of a French hostage it is holding, the group poses an acute threat and Mali must accept responsibility for his fate, France’s foreign minister said.
Last month, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said France and Mali would be “responsible” for the life of Pierre Camatte, who was kidnapped in Mali in November, if Bamako did not release four Islamist prisoners by Jan. 30.
“The deadline has been pushed back. I am not reading anything into it. I am just doing everything to ensure that this man escapes death and is freed,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in comments broadcast by France’s RFI yesterday.
“Mali is responsible. It is not us, it is Mali. It (the kidnapping) took place on Malian territory,” Kouchner added.
Camatte, as well as three Spaniards and two Italians also kidnapped in the region last year, are believed to be in the hands of al Qaeda-linked groups operating in the remote desert regions of southern Algeria and northern Mali and Mauritania.
Kouchner said that France was doing what it could to help but refused to give any further details. Malian authorities have been in talks with the gunmen holding the foreign hostages but no details have been made public.
AQIM emerged in 2007 from the Algerian Salafist GSPC movement which battled the security forces during the 1990s.
Last year it executed a British hostage it was holding but analysts say the group is interested as much in securing multi-million dollar ransom payments as political issues.
“(AQIM) poses an extremely acute threat. We must realise that AQIM is a danger all over the place,” Kouchner said.
AQIM has waged a campaign of suicide bombings and ambushes in Algeria but in the past few years has shifted a large part of its activities south to the Sahara desert.
Some western governments believe that al Qaeda-linked fighters and drug smugglersusing the politically volatile and sparsely populated Sahara as a safe haven are forging ties which could make both groups a more potent threat.
The United States and European nations are seeking to improve the capacity of the Sahara-region states to combat the threat but disputes among regional governments have hampered efforts to mount a coordinated response.
Pic: Flag of Mali