Algerian hostage found in Sahara

2010-04-29 19:04

Niamey - An Algerian driver kidnapped in the Sahara last week is free and has returned home after camel riders found him wandering through the desert in Mali, military sources in Niger said on Thursday.

The sources said the information came from Algeria's security forces but they did not have any information on the whereabouts of Michel Germaneau, the French tourist who was kidnapped with the driver, Ouaghi Abidine, in northern Niger.

Last week's kidnapping is the latest in a string of attacks in the vast desert region, where governments have little influence and a collection of bandits, smugglers, former rebels and groups linked to al-Qaeda operate.

"(The Algerian) was found in Mali's (part of the) Sahara, near Adrar. Some people riding camels found him wandering. After some explanations, they took him to Algeria," a Niger military source told Reuters, asking not to be named.

A second Nigerien source confirmed the information.

Aqim in the Sahara

No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping but it follows a pattern of seizures in the region last year, when hostages ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda's North Africa wing, which is known as Aqim.

Although no confirmation is ever given for ransom payments, diplomats and security sources say the Islamists have made millions of dollars from the kidnappings.

Western countries say if decisive action is not taken, al-Qaeda insurgents could turn the vast expanses of the Sahara into a safe haven along the lines of Somalia or Yemen and use it to launch attacks.

In an effort to improve a disjointed response to the threat, Mali, Niger, Algeria and Mauritania last week launched a joint military headquarters in the southern Algerian town of Tamanrasset.

The headquarters will triple the number of troops at its disposal to 75 000 within two years, Algerian state television said this week.