Salafists still holding 15 tourists; 17 are freed by Algerian forces

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Algeria has identified an Al Qaida satellite group as the captors of Western tourists in the Sahara desert.

Algerian officials said the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call is holding at least 15 Western hostages somewhere near the Libyan border, Middle East Newsline reported. They said 17 Western tourists were freed by Algerian commandos in an attack on a Salafist stronghold near the town of Tamanrasset in southern Algeria.

In an operation aided by reconaissance aircraft and German forces, Algerian commandos found the captives. Western diplomatic sources said the Germans were said to have provided special thermal sensors for the search in the desert.

The Algerian daily Al Watan reported on Wednesday that nine out of 10 Salafist insurgents were killed in the battle that lasted several hours. The Algerian military force of about 100 commandos then freed the 17 hostages.

The second group of hostage is believed located in the mountains several hundred kilometers away, Algerian officials said. They said an operation to free them was imminent.

"After a brief assault against the terrorists, the group of 17 detained tourists were freed, healthy and unharmed," the Algerian military said in a statement.

The Salafists captured the Westerners in late February during an expedition through the Sahara, officials said. The Islamic insurgents divided the captives into two groups and concealed them in the desert.

Officials said the abduction of the Westerners could have been carried out on the orders of Al Qaida. They said that in December 2002 envoys of Osama Bin Laden met a Salafist leader in southern Algeria and planned fresh operations.

The Salafist group is regarded as the closest ally of Al Qaida. Officials said the Salafists have carried out intelligence, recruitment and other operations for Al Qaida in Europe and North Africa.

Print this Article Print this Article Email this article Email this article Subscribe to this Feature Free Headline Alerts
Search Worldwide Web Search Search WorldTrib Archives

See current edition of

Return to World Front Cover