Mali says Sahara raid hinders bid to free Spaniards


A failed French-Mauritanian military raid to rescue a hostage in the Sahara last month has complicated efforts to free two remaining Spanish captives, but negotiations could still work, a Malian official said.

Al Qaeda’s North African wing, known as AQIM, said it had executed a 78 year-old Frenchman, Michel Germaneau, in the aftermath of the failed joint commando raid deep into Mali.

The strike, which killed six AQIM fighters, pointed to a hardening of resolve against the Islamists but underscored the challenges of fighting terrorism in such a vast desert region, reports Reuters.
“The military operation will complicate, or even delay things,” said a Malian government official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
“Contacts are now more difficult, cut off at times, but we remain optimistic because we have always opted for negotiations and not the military option. (AQIM) knows this.”

A different faction of AQIM to the one attacked last month is believed to be holding the two Spaniards, Albert Vilalta and Roque Pascual. Spanish media reported in March that the group was seeking a $5 million ransom payment. Mali, on whose territory AQIM appears to operate most freely, has long been seen as the weak spot in regional efforts to fight the Islamists.

Algeria and Mauritania in particular have criticised Bamako for being soft on the group. Malian officials were subsequently angry at not being involved in the Franco-Mauritanian operation, even though it took place on their territory.

Analysts say some Malian officials have turned a blind eye to or are even helping the group, which operates in the desert north, where they have collected millions of dollars in ransoms and are also believed to be taking a cut from smugging.

The French hostage was only the second of dozens who have been kidnapped over the years to have been killed. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; writing by David Lewis; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Paul Taylor)