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Monday, 23 February 2009 23:52

British Tourist Kidnapped By Islamic Extremists In Sahara Desert

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By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 10:12 AM on 19th February 2009

An Islamic extremist group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a group of tourists in west Africa, including a Briton.QAEDA-NIGER/CLAIMS

According to SITE Intelligence, a US group which monitors extremist websites, the claim comes from al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The tourists - a Briton who was working in Austria, two Swiss citizens and a German woman - were seized near the border between Niger and Mali on January 22.

The group released images of some of the captives and also said it was holding two Canadian diplomats seized two months ago.

AQIM spokesman Salah Abu Muhammad made the claim in an an audio message, SITE said.

He reportedly said: "We announce to the general public that the mujahideen reserve the right to deal with the six kidnapped according to Islamic Shariah (law).

"On the other hand, the mujahideen will announce later, Allah willing, their conditions in exchange for the release of the kidnapped."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We are investigating a kidnapping incident on the Mali/Niger border."

The department currently warns travellers to Niger that there is a "high threat" of kidnapping in the country.

Tourists are also advised to avoid travelling at night due to the presence of armed bandits.

The AQIM group usually demands large sums of money for the release of their captives, African analysts say.

The tourists were taken hostage as they returned from a cultural festival.

Their German tour operator Oase Reisen said last month the kidnappers were "clearly" seeking a ransom.

The travel company said they were near the border with Niger when they were stopped by armed rebels, who shot out the tyres of the first vehicle.

The driver of the second car turned it around and escaped across the bush. It was hit by three bullets but nobody was hurt.

Local Oase Reisen staff later found the shocked cook who was accompanying the tourists.

He said he had been subjected to a "show execution" where the kidnappers fired a gun just an inch away from his head.

In recent years northern Mali has been the scene of violent clashes between Tuareg rebels and the Malian army.

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