February 18, 2009 / 12:03 AM / 9 years ago

Qaeda claims abductions of Westerners in W. Africa: report

DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s wing in North Africa has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of a Canadian U.N. envoy and his aide and four Western tourists in West Africa since December, Al Jazeera television said on Tuesday.

The claim by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb appeared to confirm suspicions by officials in Niger and Mali, who had blamed the group or “terrorists” for the kidnappings in December and January.

“We are glad to bring good tidings to our Islamic nation about the success of the mujahideen in carrying out two quality operations in Niger,” a Maghreb Qaeda spokesman said on an audio recording aired by the television.

He said militants “reserved the right to deal with the six captives under Islamic sharia (law)” -- an apparent threat they might be killed if demands are not met -- adding that the group would soon issue its conditions for the release of the hostages.

Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja said last month investigations indicated “terrorists” had kidnapped Canadian U.N. envoy Robert Fowler and his aide Louis Guay who went missing in the country in December.

A senior Malian military source involved in the investigation of the kidnapping of the four tourists in northern Mali said the Maghreb Qaeda was most likely holding them.

Malian officials initially blamed Tuareg rebels for abducting the two Swiss nationals, one German and one Briton near Mali’s border with Niger in January.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), has claimed a series of attacks in the region in recent years, including the kidnapping last year of two Austrian tourists abducted in Tunisia who were later freed in Mali.

Reporting by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Charles Dick

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