Al-Qaeda’s North African wing has threatened to kill a British tourist taken hostage in the Sahara unless radical cleric and terrorism suspect Abu Qatada is released within 20 days.
The kidnapped man was among four Europeans seized in January after their convoy was ambushed near the border of Niger and Mali, where they had been after attending a Tuareg festival. The UK Foreign Office has not released the man’s name.
Qatada, once described by a Spanish judge as “Osama bin Laden’s righthand man in Europe,” is being held in Britain pending deportation to his native Jordan, where in 1999 he was convicted in his absence of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to life imprisonment. The charges related to bombings at the American school and the Jerusalem hotel in Jordan. He was convicted a second time in 2000 over a plot to bomb tourists.
“We demand that Britain release Sheikh Abu Qatada, who is unjustly [held], for the release of its British citizen. We give it 20 days as of the issuance of this statement,” al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said in a posting on an Islamist Web site on Sunday.
“When this period expires, the mujahidin will kill the British hostage,” it said.
The threat comes after AQIM last week released two of the hostages, Marianne Petzold of Germany and Gabriella Greitner of Switzerland.
Greitner’s husband would be held “until we have achieved our legitimate demands,” the group said yesterday.
Two Canadian diplomats — Robert Fowler, the UN special envoy for Niger, and his aide, Louis Guay — who were kidnapped in a separate incident near Niger’s capital, Niamey, in December, were also freed on Wednesday.
AQIM had demanded the release of 20 of its members detained in Mali and other countries. Details of the deal reached over the four victims freed so far remain murky, but there has been speculation that a ransom was paid. Canada has denied making any payment to the kidnappers, but said it could not speak for other governments.
The UK Foreign Office said it was analyzing the report of the threats.
“Hostage-taking can never be justified,” it said in a statement. “The government policy on negotiations with kidnappers and handling ransom demands is well known and very clear. We will not make substantive concessions to hostage takers.”