Mel Frykberg and Sapa
Mali security services have arrested the kidnappers of two Frenchmen who were abducted in the country on November 24. Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, were seized at gunpoint from their hotel in the town of Hombori, near Mali’s border with Niger.
Meanwhile, the North African branch of al-Qaeda has released the picture of a South African tourist who was abducted the following day, to the SA authorities, raising the hopes of his family that he’s still alive.
According to media reports, the al-Qaeda branch is alleged to have admitted in a statement that the kidnapping was carried out in revenge for recent attacks on the group in Mali. The group allegedly also admitted to the kidnapping of the two Frenchmen.
The Mali authorities have not shed any light on the situation by refusing to divulge how many kidnappers they have in custody, nor what their backgrounds and demands are. Their motives are also not known.
The details of the kidnapped South African have also been kept secret.
“This is a matter of life and death. We can’t reveal his details because his life is in the balance,” a source in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said.
“We don’t want to jeopardise his safety or give the kidnappers undue publicity.”
While the few details available point to al-Qaeda being behind both lots of kidnapping, Mali’s ambassador to SA was not so certain.
Balladji Diakite said he believed “heavily armed Mali gunmen returning from the Libyan war, where they fought with former president Muammar Gaddafi’s die-hard loyalists, were most likely behind the abductions”.
Regional expert David Zounmenou, from the African Conflict Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies in
Pretoria, concurred with Diakite. “Normally al-Qaeda kidnappers release demands alongside political statements. This hasn’t happened.”