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Austrian tourists allegedly held in northern Mali

Latest update : 2008-03-15

Militants associated with al Qaeda in North Africa have demanded the release of five Algerian Islamists in exchange for the two Austrian tourists they abducted in Tunisia, an Algerian newspaper reported Saturday. (Story: A.Roy)

ALGIERS, March 15 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda is in talks with an
Austrian envoy about the possible release of two Austrian
hostages held near a town in northern Mali, an Algerian Web site
that specialises in security matters reported on Saturday.

The Web site of the daily Ennahar said the two were being
held by a group led by Algerian militant Abdelhamid abu Zeid at
an al Qaeda base about 150 km (95 miles) from Kidal town.

A senior Austrian envoy had arrived in Mali's capital,
Bamako, and had started negotiations by telephone with the
kidnappers, who are demanding a ransom as well as the liberation
of 10 militants held in Algeria and Tunisia, the Web site said.

Al Qaeda had demanded the release of the militants within
three days from midnight on Thursday.

In Vienna, Foreign Ministry officials could not immediately
be reached for comment on the report of talks. Austrian
officials have previously said they would not negotiate with

The captives, Andrea Kloiber, 43, and Wolfgang Ebner, 51,
went missing in Tunisia last month and Al Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb said it seized them on Feb. 22.

Ennahar, which has good security contacts, said the pair are
being held in an area that is usually controlled by a Tuareg
tribe called El Barabich.

"Negotiations are going on but some demands are within the
Algerian authorities' jurisdiction and Austria cannot get
involved in it or negotiate about it," Ennahar quoted one of its
sources as saying, referring to the Islamists' demand for the
release of the militants.

Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer appealed on Friday to
al Qaeda's North Africa wing to release the two but said he had
no intention of yielding to the hostage-takers' demands.



Kloiber's parents sent a video overnight to Qatar-based
broadcaster Al Jazeera asking for the hostages' release.

"We only have sleepless nights now. We are suffering
greatly. Please let our children go," Austrian news agency APA
quoted Christine Lenz, Kloiber's mother, as saying.

After the kidnapping, al Qaeda warned Western tourists not
to visit Tunisia. A subsequent statement expanded the warning to
include other Maghreb states -- Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria.

A senior security source in Mali said it was possible the
kidnappers had moved to the northern desert town of Tessalit,
where the al Qaeda wing -- formerly known as the Salafist Group
for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) -- is believed to have a base.

A security source in Algeria said on Friday among the
militants whose release was sought was Amari Saifi, an Algerian
guerrilla chief more popularly known as Abderrazak el Para who
abducted 32 European tourists for several months in 2003.

The group, waging a violent campaign against government
forces and foreign interests in North Africa, said its members
were jailed for confronting "the new crusade against Islam".

The Algerian guerrilla chief Saifi abducted the 32 European
tourists in early 2003. Some were rescued when Algerian
commandos stormed a rebel hideout.

German newspapers have reported that the German government
paid a ransom of about $5 million to secure the release of the
remainder, most of whom were German. The German government has
consistently declined to comment on the reports.

Date created : 2008-03-15