ALGIERS, Sept 3, 2012 (AFP) -
ALGIERS, Sept 3, 2012 (AFP) –
The Algerian government came in for press criticism Monday after Islamic militants occupying northern Mali announced the execution of an Algerian diplomat, one of four being held hostage.
“Tyranny in the Sahel,” ran the headline of the French-language daily El Watan, commenting that “the dramatic evolution of the hostage affair puts Algiers in a difficult situation.”
“Will the urgency of saving the three diplomats who are still alive force Algiers to review its position?” the paper asked.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said Algerian vice consul Tahar Touati was executed on Saturday morning after an ultimatum given to his government on August 24 to meet their demands expired.
“The life of the other hostages will soon be in danger if Algeria doesn’t listen to us,” Walid Abu Sarhaoui, president of the MUJAO council, told AFP.
“Algeria had the time to move negotiations along but did not want to. We executed the hostage on Saturday,” he said, adding that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had rejected a deal with MUJAO.
The government has barely commented on the claim, saying it was seeking to verify the reports, and insisting that “contact with the kidnappers has not been broken.”
Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told journalists on Monday that all information in the possession of the Algerian authorities about the reported execution had been made public.
The Ennahar newspaper said Touati’s family was told by the authorities that there was no proof he had been killed.
The kidnappers, who are a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that first surfaced a year ago, had threatened to kill the hostage after Algiers rejected its demands.
These included the release of three comrades arrested in southern Algeria last month, including Necib Tayeb, a senior member of AQIM, the jihadist network’s North Africa branch.
MUJAO claimed the April 5 kidnapping of seven Algerian diplomats from a consulate in the Malian town of Gao, one of a string of northern towns captured by the militants. Three of them were released in July.
The Algerian press seized on the implications of Saturday’s reported killing.
Another French-language daily, L’Expression, questioned Algeria’s involvement in what it called a “dirty war,” while Le Soir d’Algerie said that, by executing a diplomat “the MUJAO is pushing Algeria towards military intervention.”
Algeria has made the rejection of foreign military intervention a centrepiece of its diplomacy.
However, along with neighbouring Mauritania and Niger, the North African country is committed to military cooperation and intelligence-sharing aimed at containing the fallout from the Islamists’ seizure of northern Mali in March.
And the MUJAO on Saturday captured the town of Douentza, their furthest position south and a step closer to the capital Bamako.
Given its own history of violent conflict with Islamist extremists, Algiers has also rejected the demands of the hostage-takers in Mali, instead championing an international anti-ransom campaign.
MUJAO demanded 15 million euros in May in return for freeing the Algerian diplomats, but then released three of them.
The Islamist militants abducted three European aid workers from a Sahrawi refugee camp in Tindouf, southwestern Algeria, in October last year, releasing them in July in exchange for three Islamists and an alleged ransom of 15 million euros.
They also claimed responsibility for two attacks in southern Algeria this year, on a police base in Tamanrasset in March that left 23 people wounded, and another in Ouargla in June that left one dead.