Kidnap threats escalate in Sahel
By Bakari Gueye for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 14/11/12
Instability in the Sahel region is a growing concern for Western governments, who warn their citizens against any unnecessary travel to the region.
"The terrorist groups al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the splinter group, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, pose the greatest kidnap threat," British Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds said on Thursday (November 8th).
"Since the recent coup in Mali, both groups have increased their operational reach and have proven capability to travel long distances to kidnap victims. They have also been known to use criminal gangs to conduct attacks and pass hostages to them," the minister added.
Simmonds said that attacks had "taken place in Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria", and terror groups have "operational reach into the north of Burkina Faso and southern Libya". He predicted that the situation was "likely to get worse".
The Foreign Office warned citizens and tour operators against travelling to the region.
Last year, two French nationals were abducted from a restaurant in Niamey, Niger, and executed near the border with Mali. Seven French citizens were kidnapped in Niger in September 2010.
"The kidnapping and execution of French nationals are a reminder of the dangers threatening the Sahel region," British Foreign Office Minister of State said.
According to the ministry, 25 Westerners have been kidnapped in the Sahel since 2008.
The fears grow all the more acute as the world is inching closer toward a military intervention in Mali.
"On October 20th, the new leader of Al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) for the Sahel and Sahara, Yahya Abou El Hamame, warned that any military intervention in northern Mali would be like waging an open war against the West’s regional interests and would be like signing a death warrant for the French hostages," said Mauritanian analyst Mohamed Lemine Ould Sidi.
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