Thursday, April 17, 2008

Three Mediators Murdered in Austrian Hostage Crisis

Austrian tourists Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea KloiberI’ve reported reported several times about the two Austrian tourists, Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber, who were kidnapped in Tunisia back in February by Al Qaeda and are now being held in Mali.

Several “deadlines” for demands to be met have come and gone — the most recent, as far as I can discover, was April 6th — and yet Mr. Ebner and Ms. Kloiber are still alive.

However, the same thing can’t be said of all the people mediating their release. According to the latest news from Reuters, three of the intermediaries negotiating for the release of the hostages have been killed by Tuareg tribesmen:

Austria said on Thursday it was continuing to work to free two Austrians held hostage by al Qaeda in the Sahara region, despite reports that an intermediary negotiating their release had been shot dead.

The Algerian daily El Khabar on Wednesday quoted an unnamed security source as saying that a Malian intermediary had been killed about a week ago near the Algerian-Malian border.

A spokesman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry said he could not confirm the report, but that efforts to save Andrea Kloiber, 43, and Wolfgang Ebner, 51, were continuing.

“There has not been any interruption to our efforts to save the hostages as the report suggests,” Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal said, adding that no new deadline had been set by the abductors.
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On Thursday, El Khabar quoted a former Malian rebel leader, Hassan Fagaga, as saying three mediators had been killed. He said they were Touareg tribesmen.

El Khabar and another Algerian newspaper, Ennahar, said negotiations for the release of the Austrians with a group whose leader they named as Abdelhamid abu Zeid had been postponed because of the killings.

The couple disappeared in February while on holiday in Tunisia. Al Qaeda’s North African wing said it had kidnapped them, and demanded the release of 10 Islamic militants held in Tunisia and Algeria. Security sources in Algeria said it also wanted a cash ransom.

An al Qaeda statement posted on the Internet last Monday said the group was now only seeking the release of a Muslim couple held in Austria, and that Austria was responsible for the fate of its citizens after a deadline expired. But it was not clear if this statement came from the captors.

One suspects that there is more going on here than meets the eye.

Al Qaeda has lowered its demands. At one time they had demanded millions of dollars and the release of terrorist prisoners in Tunisia and Algeria. Now the only requirement is that two Muslims in an Austrian prison be released — a demand which Austria, at least in theory, could actually meet.

And now three of the mediators are dead. Is this a battle between rival factions who don’t want to subdivide their slices of the pie? An operation by one of the intelligence services? Or something else?

This story just gets murkier and murkier.

Hat tip: insubria.


Vlad Z. said...

The Tuareg are just being Tuareg. While muslim terrorists have all sorts of odd ideology and tactics, the Tuareg are merely acting like the desert bandits they have always been. Perhaps the interpreters offended them, or perhaps the theives routinely kill their victims, especially if they suspect they may bring furhter trouble. To travel in Tuareg deserts without guides and guns is an invitation for disaster, as it has been for 1000 years. The French never managed to subdue them, the Islamicists have not subdued them and Al Qaeda has probably met their match, at least in the Sahara. Political powers come and go, but the blue veiled masters of the camel endure.