Saharan activists detain group in aid abductions

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2011 7:33 AM
Saharan activists detain group in aid abductions

The organization fighting for the independence of the Western Sahara said it is holding several people suspected of a role in the October kidnapping of three European aid workers.

Khatri Addouh, head of the Polisario's parliament, said in a statement Thursday on its website that a group of people were "arrested" by the organization's security agency. He did not specify how many or where they were found.

"They work for a previously unknown criminal organization," he said, speaking from the Polisario-controlled town of Tifarti, which is inside the Western Sahara but outside the area annexed by Morocco in 1975 after former colonial ruler Spain pulled out.

On Oct. 22, gunmen kidnapped the aid workers, one Italian and two Spanish, from Saharan refugee camps in southern Algeria near the Moroccan border. At the time it was suspected al-Qaida in North Africa was behind the kidnapping, as it has snatched dozens of foreigners across the deserts of northern and western Africa and ransomed them for millions of dollars.

Al-Qaida last week denied it had anything to do with the kidnapping of these aid workers.

On Tuesday, the Spanish government said it saw a video of the hostages, purportedly from a splinter group of the militant network.

Al-Qaida captives and regional security agencies have confirmed that there are several armed bands operating throughout the vast area, often competing with each other to kidnap and ransom foreigners.

The Polisario said the gunmen came just before midnight on Oct. 22 to the Rabuni refugee camp near Tindouf and then left in the direction of Mali.

"We are expending all the necessary efforts in cooperation with neighboring countries as well as other countries to liberate these hostages," said Addouh.

Many Western Saharan refugees fled from the mineral-rich territory when the Moroccans moved in, and have remained in Algerian camps ever since.