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 Algerian daily Al Watan reported on Wednesday that nine out of 10
Salafist insurgents were killed in the battle that lasted several hours. The
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
The Salafists captured the Westerners in late February during an
expedition through the Sahara, officials said. The Islamic insurgents
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
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.