Algeria's kidnapped governor returns home

2012-01-18 14:34

Algiers - An Algerian regional governor who officials said was kidnapped and then freed in neighbouring Libya was handed over to the Algerian authorities on Wednesday, the speaker of Algeria's parliament said.

The circumstances surrounding the abduction remain unclear, but it is likely to heighten concerns that instability in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi is spilling over into its neighbours and providing fertile ground for Islamist insurgents.

"I can inform you that the Illizi governor was handed over to the Algerian authorities today," Abdelaziz Ziari, the speaker of parliament, told lawmakers in the capital, Algiers. "He is in good health."

The Algerian Interior Ministry said that the governor, Mohamed Laid Khelfi, was abducted on Monday by three armed men when he returned from a visit to Debdeb, on the Libyan-Algerian border about 1 700 km south of the capital.

It said he was freed about 24 hours later, inside Libya, when Libyan security forces intercepted his kidnappers.

Two security sources told Reuters the governor was held by al-Qaeda's north African branch, though officials in Algeria have not confirmed this.

Libya's interim government has made no comment, but the head of a powerful militia in Tripoli cast doubt on the Algerian account, saying the incident happened inside Algeria and that it had nothing to do with Libya.

The kidnapping, deep in the Sahara desert, was the most audacious attack on a senior official for years in Algeria. The north African oil and gas exporter has been fighting a two-decade battle against Islamist insurgents.

Security experts say the instability and lack of strong government in Libya since the fall of Gaddafi have handed the insurgents a source of weapons and a safe haven from which to launch their attacks.