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2011-07-13

French hostage families renew calls for release

By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 13/07/11

Three hundred days after their abduction, the fate of French hostages kidnapped in Niger remains unknown. To remind people of their ongoing plight, their families on Tuesday (July 12th) launched a joint call for "effective initiatives".

"We fear the danger of the duration of such detention in conditions that pose risks to their health," wrote the families of Daniel Larribe, Thierry Dole, Marc Feret and Pierre Legrand in a letter distributed by Ouest-France.

"Why this total silence and why is it not possible to establish a comfort link between the hostages and their families as it happens with prisoners' families?" they wondered.

Three of the seven foreigners snatched in Arlit last September were freed in February, The remaining detainees are allegedly being held in Mali's Timetrine region (100km from the Algerian border).

In March, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued ransom demands, which included 90 million euros and the release of AQIM prisoners held in France. The demands were roundly rejected by the French government.

"We cannot negotiate on these bases," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

"What AQIM is demanding in return for the release of hostage is much greater than the assistance we're currently giving to the state of Mali in its development, some 53 million euros a year," French lawmaker Francois Loncle said.

The stance found support from counter-terrorism experts, who fear that paying terrorists would solidify their position and weaken the recent blow suffered by al-Qaeda at the hands of the Mauritanian army in the Wagadou Forest.

"The idea that the international public opinion had of AQIM is that the organisation was not an ideological group but just a group seeking to make a profit through drug trafficking and kidnapping of foreign nationals," political analyst Sidi Mohammed Ould Younis told Magharebia.

The French refusal to meet the ransom "will further disfigure the image of AQIM in the eyes of public opinion and aggravate its financial weakness, as it today has a dire need for money", he added.

For Salafist ideology expert Said Ould Habib, AQIM's ransom demand was a manifestation of its growing weakness.

"AQIM's demand of ransom establishes two assumptions: first, their feeling of danger because of the military strike, and therefore, they seek to have funds to help them stand on their feet again; second, their feeling of strength derived from their possession of advanced Libya weapons," he added.

"No ransom should be given to those terrorists," Ould Habib added. "Rather, they should be confronted militarily even if the French have to sacrifice their own hostages for the rescue of thousands of citizens. And when AQIM realises that kidnapping hostages is no longer a source of money, it will give up kidnapping."

Mauritanian filmmaker Zein Al Abidin, who directed a movie on terrorism, "My Friend Who Disappeared", shared the view.

"The ransom would help AQIM kidnap new hostages and enhance their force in the face of regional countries' armies," he told Magharebia. "If the Western governments refuse to pay ransom, they will deny the terrorists a source to buy weapons."

"I support Algeria's position that refuses to pay ransom to terrorist groups," the movie director added. "Therefore, we notice that kidnappings of foreign national on Algerian soil are not too many."

Researcher Mohammed Ould Dah agreed that "delaying the ransom payment would delay further kidnappings".

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