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Islamists issue ultimatum over Algerian hostages: spokesman

Malian troop members check a charred vehicle abandoned by Al-Qaeda in 2011 (© 2009 AFP)

An Islamist group that abducted seven Algerian diplomats in Mali has warned Algiers that if it fails to meet its demands within 30 days, the hostages’ lives will be in danger.

“We are issuing an ultimatum of less than 30 days to the Algerian government to meet our demands, or the lives of the hostages will be in great danger,” said a text from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

“The hostages are still alive,” added the statement, which was written by spokesman Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui and sent to AFP.

“The Algerian government knows our demands … There is still time for talks. Afterwards, it will be late.”

The group, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), abducted the Algerian consul and six members of his team from Gao, northeastern Mali, on April 5.

The abduction took place as Islamist and Tuareg separatist groups overran the north of the country in the wake of a military coup in the capital Bamako, seizing control of a region the size of France and Belgium.

In a statement last week sent to AFP, the group threatened to launch attacks on Algeria if its demands were not met.

The group has already claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a police base in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria, on March 3 which left 23 people wounded according to the paramilitary gendarmerie.

In its May 2 statement to AFP, it called on Algeria to release an unspecified number of Islamist militants and pay a ransom of 15 million euros ($19.5 million).

So far, Algiers had failed to meet those demands, said the statement.

The same group claimed the abduction last October of three aid workers from a camp for Sahrawi refugees near Tindouf in western Algeria: two Spanish nationals, a man and a woman; and an Italian woman.

They have demanded 30 million euros and the release of two Sahrawis held in Mauritania in return for the two women being held.

Sahraoui said in his statement to AFP last week that “negotiations only concern the Italian and Spanish women hostages”. He made no mention of the Spanish man.

His group was pressing Madrid to act to obtain the release of two Sahrawis arrested by Mauritania, he added.

MUJAO is said to have broken off from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in order to spread jihad to west Africa rather than confine themselves just to the Maghreb or Sahel regions.

It is led by Malians and Mauritanians, according to experts.

AQIM is also holding a number of foreign hostages.

Signature : BAMAKO (AFP)

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