CAIRO (Reuters) - The militant group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Australians near Burkina Faso’s border with Mali on Jan. 15, according to an audio statement on Friday.
The recording by the al Mourabitoun branch of AQIM, released on its official Telegram channel, also said the group had decided to release one of the captives - a woman - unconditionally.
“The primary motive behind their kidnapping was an attempt to (gain) release of our captives who sit behind bars and suffer the pain of imprisonment, as well as being deprived of their basic rights,” the recording stated.
Dr Ken Elliott and his wife, Jocelyn, who are in their 80s, have operated a 120-bed clinic in the town of Djibo for more than 40 years.
They were abducted from the town as al Qaeda fighters raided a restaurant and hotel across the West African nation in the capital Ouagadougou - an attack that left dozens dead, most of them foreigners.
In the recording, AQIM said it was releasing the woman under public pressure and in accordance with what it said was guidance from al Qaeda leaders not to involve women in war.
Australia said it was aware of the recording and the government remained in close contact with the Elliott family.
“The safety and welfare of Dr and Mrs Elliott are our overriding concern,” the Australian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Reporting by Omar Fahmy, additional reporting by Morag MacKinnon in PERTH; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Dominic Evans, Robert Birsel