Al-Qaida says 4 European hostages in good health

AP News
Posted: Dec 09, 2009 10:09 AM

An al-Qaida offshoot that has claimed responsibility for kidnapping three Spaniards and a Frenchman in West Africa last month said Wednesday the four Europeans were in good health and treated according to Islamic laws.

The group's demands would be announced later, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said.

In a statement posted Wednesday on an Islamic Web site, it said Frenchman Pierre Camatte was seized in Mali on Nov. 25 and the three Spaniards _ Albert Vilalta, Roque Pascual and Alicia Gamez _ were taken hostage in Mauritania five days later.

"The hostages are in good health, being treated according to Islamic sharia (laws) and France and Spain will be informed later of the mujahideen legitimate demands," the statement said.

The kidnapping, it said, was in retaliation for "the Crusaders' war against Muslims and Islam everywhere and the killing of innocent people and occupying their lands."

"We tell the Crusaders that your security and that of your citizens is linked to our security and the security of our Muslim brothers," it said.

The statement's authenticity could not be immediately verified, but it was posted on an Islamic Web site that publishes statements and video footage by al-Qaida and other militant groups.

Al-Qaida supporters, commenting on the statement, urged the group to swap the four hostages with mujahideen prisoners convicted in the March 2004 Madrid train bombings.

The same Web site on Tuesday posted an audiotape by the group's spokesman, Saleh Abu Mohammad, announcing responsibility for the kidnapping of the Europeans.

Following the release of the audiotape, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said that Spain's National Intelligence Center was studying it but that the government was treating the claim as genuine.

Last week, a Mauritanian official said the three Spaniards were taken by their captors to a camp run by the group in neighboring Mali.

Camatte was kidnapped in his hotel in Menaka, northern Mali, near the border with Niger.

After the kidnapping, France's Foreign Ministry urged French citizens to avoid areas of the Sahel desert, particularly northern and eastern Mali and northern Niger.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb operates mainly in Algeria but is suspected of crossing the country's porous desert borders to spread violence in the rest of northwestern Africa.