By Jemal Oumar
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) splinter group MUJAO set a price tag on the safe return of the Algerian and European hostages held in Mali, but analysts say it is unlikely that their demands will be satisfied.
MUJAO – Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya – wants 15 million euros for the seven Algerian diplomats kidnapped in Gao, 30 million euros for two female aid workers abducted last October from a Sahrawi refugee camp, and the release of prisoners held by Algeria and Mauritania, terror group spokesman Adnan Abu Walid told Radio Africa 1 on Thursday (May 3rd).
If the demands are not met, the MUJAO spokesman said, “We’re considering attacking Algeria in a way similar to the Tamanrasset attack.”
But MUJAO’s threats to launch a terrorist attack on Algeria are actually an indication that they are not in a position to do so, security affairs expert Hamadi Ould Dah told Magharebia.
“This threat reflects too much inability and despair,” he explained, adding that it is an attempt “to make up for the moral and military blow it has suffered at the hands of the Algerian army which killed about 20 of their terrorists at the end of April”.
“The terrorist groups don’t miss an opportunity to attack targets they believe are suitable. Therefore, their threat now to carry out the attack to free hostages means that they now realise that they could never achieve their goals through military action,” Ould Dah said.
Stategic analyst Hajj Ould Ibrahim said he also “believes that the ransom demanded by the jihadist group is extremely exaggerated”.
“Countries basically reject the principle of paying ransom to terrorist groups because these ransoms provide cash that helps these groups acquire more sophisticated weapons and enlist new recruits,” he told Magharebia.
This is the official view of both Algeria and Mauritania, explained Ould Ibrahim.
“I don’t think that the countries concerned will pay ransoms of this size to this terrorist group,” he said.
He added that two options exist: to negotiate a reduction of this ransom or to free the hostages by force.
Mauritanian journalist and Taqadoumy editor Hanevy Ould Dedah agreed that paying ransom sends the wrong message.
Ould Dedah told Magharebia that ransom payments “may encourage the jihadist group to engage in more kidnappings as long as this would generate money for the terrorist group to finance its activities and free its prisoners”.
He conceded that exceptions have been made in the past, such as with Mauritanian gendarme Ely Ould Moctar, who was kidnapped from Adel Bagrou in eastern Mauritania.
“I think that when political considerations force Mauritania or Algeria to pay a ransom or release radicals to avoid embarrassment, they don’t find any obstacles to that,” Ould Dedah said.
Meanwhile, analyst Mohammed Naji Ould Ahmedu said that MUJAO’s demands place Algeria in particularly tight spot. Just a week ago, the country concluded a Maghreb seminar confirming the principle of “refusing to pay ransom to terrorists” and “refusing to swap imprisoned terrorists for hostages”.
“Algerian officials have repeatedly confirmed the principle of refusing to pay ransom,” Ould Ahmedu said.
He warned that abductions for ransom in the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean, the African Sahel and other regions of the world “threaten the stability of those regions and international security”.
Algeria’s response will determine how other countries deal with this phenomenon in the future, Ould Ahemdu said.