By Mouna Sadek and Jemal Oumar
By Mouna Sadek and Jemal Oumar
October 26, 2011
Three Western humanitarian aid workers were abducted Saturday night from a Polisario-run refugee camp in Rabuni, near Tindouf, Algerian and Sahrawi authorities announced on Sunday (October 23rd).
“The kidnappers infiltrated from Malian territory … using an all-terrain vehicle and firearms. The terrorists went back the way they came with the hostages,” the Polisario said in a statement. One of the Spaniards and a Sahrawi guard were wounded in the assault, the statement said.
The hostages were identified as Italian Rossella Urru of Rome-based International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP) and Spanish NGO workers Enric Gonyalons of Basque organisation Mundubat and Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon of the Sahrawi Friendship Association of Extremadura.
The abduction is causing Sahrawi authorities to reassess their security situation. Polisario representative in Algiers Brahim Ghali told Magharebia that this was the first such attack to have taken place in the area.
The attack also came just two days after an offensive by the Mauritanian army against AQIM in Mali’s Wagadou forest. According to a Mauritanian security source, the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb branch led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar (aka Laaouar) was responsible for the kidnapping.
Polisario chief Mohammed Abdelaziz on Sunday sent a statement to the United Nations saying that the Polisario “has taken measures to hunt down the kidnappers by being in contact with neighbouring countries and all parties concerned to pursue the kidnappers”.
“One of the hostages, Spaniard Enrico Gonyalons, appears to have been wounded, along with one of the Sahrawi guards,” according to the statement.
Antonio Rios, vice-president of the Association of the Friends of the Sahrawi People, explained that a number of shots had been fired at the time of the attack.
Some in Algiers are questioning the motives behind the attack, which took place on the eve of the visit to Algiers by the Malian president.
El Khabar newspaper pointed out the Algerian President Bouteflika and Malian President Toumani Toure were to discuss matters of security, among other topics, and that the timing of this event was meant to cause doubt in Algeria’s ability to secure the region.
Analyst Bashir Ould Babaneh suggested that the location of the attack in disputed Western Sahara territory may link the Polisario to the AQIM mission.
On the other hand, security expert Abderrahmane Ould Zein said, “If it is true that these Europeans were abducted near the city of Tindouf by al-Qaeda elements, it means that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb moved the conflict from the traditional focus in Mauritania and Mali, which formed the scene of its operations during the past two years.”
“Al-Qaeda wants to say it is ready and capable of confrontation,” he added, suggesting that the AQIM kidnapping may be a sign of tension between the organisation and its Sahrawi partners. He warned of more attacks in the near future as a result.
He cited the spread of Libyan arms as an explanation for the geographical shift in AQIM operations.
Algerian army chief of staff Gaid Salah went to Tindouf on Saturday (October 22nd) to secure the Algerian borders in the southwest of the country, particularly to guard against Libyan weapons smugglers.
“There is no stability in the Western Sahara region, and it suffers from weak security coverage and became an area of AQIM and drug smugglers, and this renews the call for all parties to the conflict to speed up a peaceful solution,” according to expert in terrorist ideology El-Rabei Ould Adomu.
There are also mercenaries “whose mission is summed up as taking hostages and selling them to al-Qaeda. But European countries have contributed to the phenomenon of mercenaries significantly, especially Spain and France, who pay ransom for the release of nationals”, he added.
“This issue greatly harms poor countries and constitutes a challenge to the repeated demands of the United Nations not to pay ransom to kidnappers, since if ransom is not stopped, the phenomenon of kidnappings will continue as a source of livelihood for mercenaries,” Ould Adomu concluded.
Photo by: AFP/Dominique Faget