SA man reportedly in Mali hostage drama

2011-11-26 13:10
Bamako - Gunmen killed a German man in Mali's famous city of Timbuktu and seized three men from the Netherlands, South Africa and Sweden, their tour guide said, as officials on Saturday ordered a plane to evacuate foreigners from the tourist destination.

Tour guide Ali Maiga said the South African man also holds a British passport. Maiga was with the tourists during Friday's attack at a Timbuktu restaurant. A witness and an official said gunmen burst into the restaurant, grabbed four tourists dining there and executed one when he refused to climb into their truck.

Officials on Saturday evacuated foreigners from Timbuktu to the capital, said a man who owns a hotel in Bamako where the tourists previously stayed. He asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Dutch officials did not say whether any of the hostages are Dutch. The kidnappings come before an expected official visit by Mali's president to the Netherlands next week.

"In the interests of the people involved, we never comment on these cases," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ward Bezemer told the Associated Press.

Until a few years ago, Timbuktu was one of the most visited destinations in Africa, but it is now one of the many former tourist hotspots in Mali that have been deemed too dangerous to visit by foreign embassies because of kidnappings by the local chapter of al-Qaeda.

Friday's incident comes after two French citizens were grabbed in the middle of the night from their hotel in the Malian town of Hombori on Thursday. French judicial officials have opened a preliminary investigation into their kidnappings.

Neither kidnapping has yet been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, whose members have kidnapped and ransomed more than 50 Europeans and Canadians since 2003.

If Friday's kidnapping is by AQIM, it will mark the first time they have taken a hostage inside of Timbuktu's city limits. Thursday's kidnapping would be another first - the first hostage taking south of the Niger River.

The group's footprint has grown dramatically since 2006, when the Algerian-led cell first joined al-Qaeda. Security experts estimate the group has been able to raise around $130m from ransom payments alone.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  mali  |  west africa  |  abductions
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