By Jemal Oumar
Terrorists suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) kidnapped five tourists and killed another in two separate incidents in northern Mali last week.
The first kidnapping occurred Thursday (November 24th) when two Frenchmen were abducted from their hotel in the Malian city of Hombori. Then on Friday, three foreigners were taken from a restaurant in central Timbuktu by a group of armed men. Another tourist, a German national, was killed while resisting the terrorists.
The Malian government condemned the attacks in a statement issued Friday, vowing to take “all measures necessary to ensure the security and stability of the region”. The statement dubbed the attackers “terrorists” who were “targeting the safety and security of the north of Mali”.
The statement stressed that the government was determined to pursue the kidnappers and anyone who would undermine regional stability. Additional security forces were deployed throughout Timbuktu following the attacks.
“The kidnapping took place in rather vague conditions. We are still in the stage of gathering information,” Jeune Afrique quoted French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe as saying.
The journal added: “Malian military forces as well as a number of French officers in charge of training the elite forces in the Malian army kicked off investigations and are combing the area, in search of the two French citizens who were kidnapped between Wednesday and Thursday from La Dombia hotel.”
The Algerian newspaper El Khabar also reported French soldiers were involved in the hunt for the kidnappers. The paper named the two taken from Hombori as geologists Serge Lazarivic and Philipe Verdon. Verdon allegedly had links to French mercenary Bob Denard while Lazarivic was involved in private security, according to AFP.
The renewed terrorist activity has sparked questions from observers on the efficacy and seriousness of recent counter-terror efforts in the Sahel.
Terrorism expert Bashir Ould Babanah told Magharebia that the Hombori kidnapping was in an area that officials had previously labelled as less risky. He added that it shows “al-Qaeda is starting to change its tactics by venturing out of their usual places to less suspected areas, closer to the borders with Burkina Faso.”
“Either way, the consecutive kidnapping that took place despite intensified security measures and the combing also indicates that armed Touareg groups, threatening to break off, are starting to follow through with their threats by undertaking actions meant to undermine security, i.e. through kidnapping foreigners, allying with terrorists and selling hostages. All are serious signs that the region in question is on the threshold of major chaos and extensive civil unrest, which – in turn – opens the door to international mafias and smugglers,” Ould Babanah added.