Mali kidnapping: Tourists evacuated
Hombori - A group of tourists was evacuated from the ancient tourist city of Timbuktu in northern Mali Saturday, an airport source said, after the kidnapping of four Europeans, one of whom was killed.
The group of around 10 tourists was flown to Mopti, south of Timbuktu, in an aeroplane provided by Mali's government as authorities moved to prevent further kidnappings.
On Friday an armed gang kidnapped three people -- one Swede, one Dutch and one with dual British-South African nationality -- and killed a fourth German man who tried to resist.
A second evacuation of tourists to the capital Bamako was planned for later on Saturday.
Meanwhile five French army helicopters arrived in Gao, northern Mali, Saturday to hunt for two French nationals described as geologists kidnapped from their hotel 240 kilometres (150 miles) away in Hombori early Thursday.
French soldiers had already arrived to join Mali's army in looking for the pair, a source at the airport confirmed.
Mali's government described the spate of kidnappings as an "an attack on the country's security and stability," which "reaffirms (our) determination and unfailing commitment to any action needed to guarantee peace, security and stability."
Although there has been no immediate claim of responsibility, the incidents are the latest in a series of abductions of foreigners believed to be the work of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
AQIM has bases in the northern Mali desert from which it organises raids and kidnappings and deals in the trafficking of weapons and drugs.
It also operates in Niger, Mauritania and Algeria.
Friday's incident brings the total of foreigners held in the vast Sahel region to nine.
The two French captives, named in documents seen by AFP as Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, had arrived in Hombori on Tuesday night on a mission to take soil samples in the Hombori reion for the company Mande Construction Immobiliere where it plans to build a cement factory.
The kidnapping was "well organised", said a source in the security forces at Hombori. "We think that these people came from one of Mali's neighbouring countries to take part in the operation."
Police said five people had been arrested including the Frenchmen's guide, named as Ibrahim Ould Bah.
Northern Mali is classified as a "red zone" by the French authorities, which is a recommendation that travel there be avoided. Hombori is in the "orange zone" to the south, deemed less dangerous.
The kidnappings were the first in this region situated to the south of the vast Malian desert and close to Dogon territory, which is popular with tourists because of the famed masks, architecture and dances of the Dogon people whose land lies close to the border with Burkina Faso.
AQIM is still holding four French nationals abducted in Niger in September 2010.
The four were among seven people kidnapped at Arlit, the main uranium mining town in Niger. They included an executive of the French nuclear giant Areva and his wife, both French, with five employees of a sub-contractor of Areva, who were identified as three French men, a Togolese and a Madagascan.
The French woman and the two African men were freed on February 24, but the others are still being held.