Al-Qaida holds hostages
It’s now proven with pictures that the six Westerners that vanished in the Sahara in December and January, including two Canadian diplomats, are held by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). More precisely, by its amorphous Saharan wing: an anonymous Malian source names the fabled southern amir, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, while the Algerian newspaper El Khabar mentions Yahia Djouadi, another AQIM commander. An AP dispatch points to what is, in my view, a very likely theory: that local gangsters/tribals originally kidnapped the Europeans and Canadians, but sold them on to AQIM, which is known to be on the prowl for non-Muslim foreigners.
The El Khabar article also says Djouadi has decided to execute two “intelligence agents” among the hostages. A similar kidnapping of Austrian tourists off the beaten track in Tunisia was recently resolved by payment of ransom (though no-one will admit it), and despite Djouadi’s threats, there’s reason to believe that that’s the goal here too. While it’s hard to blame those who are paying, kidnappings will keep happening as long as they’re profitable — it’s as simple as that.
This will no doubt lead to another round of conspirative speculation on Who Benefits From This, since everybody and his auntie seems to have their own darling theory about who controls Belmokhtar. Feel free to go at it in comments, but not before eyeing some background material: Adrian‘s background post at Arabic Media Shack, and, for the longer version, his thesis; an interesting Vanity Fair piece on US involvement in the region; and, also, various posts on Western Sahara Info and The Moor Next Door (under keywords like: Touareg, terrorism, al-Qaida).