Al Qaeda in North Africa warns France in first tweet
The North-African branch of al Qaeda (AQMI) has opened an official Twitter account, immediately taking aim at France and threatening to kill the French nationals it is holding hostage.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, best known by its French acronym AQMI, has opened its own Twitter account, posting five messages since March 28. Its first messages via the popular micro-blogging website have specifically targeted France, threatening to kill French hostages.
“Will the French people succeed in convincing [President François] Hollande to save the lives of the hostages?” the debut tweet from the @Andalus_Media account provocatively asked.
AQMI had originally opened its Twitter account on March 16, but its first two tweets were subsequently erased, according to the US online terrorism watchdog SITE.
The Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) said several Twitter accounts claiming links with AQMI already existed, but the new account was recognised as official by the al-Fajr Media Center, al Qaeda’s propaganda group.
AQMI’s new Twitter account has gained over 2,000 followers in a few days, while it has only posted five tweets to date.
‘Cannot guarantee their safety’
A tweet on March 29 written in English redirected web users to a statement that said French hostages were alive and well, “except for the spy Philip Vardon [sic],” who the group said was killed in retaliation for French military strikes in northern Mali.
The statement added that AQMI “cannot guarantee [the hostages’] safety to infinity.”
French military forces have been engaged in combat against Islamic rebels in Mali since January, pushing them back from key towns the fighters took during a power vacuum in the African country last year.
At least 14 French nationals, snatched between September 2010 and February 2013, are currently being held hostage by groups operating in North Africa.
Philippe Verdon, officially a French businessman, was kidnapped along with Serge Lazarevic in November 2011 in northeast Mali. His death was originally announced by a Mauritanian news website on March 20.
Paris has not confirmed Verdon’s death, but President Hollande evoked the possibility of his murder in a televised interview on March 28.