Tags: Africa | Qaida | threat | talks

African Nations Meet on Al-Qaida Threat

Tuesday, 16 March 2010 10:07 AM

ALGIERS – Seven north African states held talks Tuesday in Algeria to plan a coordinated response to Al-Qaeda following a dangerous rise in the terror threat in the Sahara-Sahel region, officials said.

The conference "indicates our shared will to take adequate and suitable steps in a coordinated manner" in response to the terror threat "which has seen dangerous developments," said Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci.

An Al-Qaeda offshoot in north Africa, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), along with other criminal groups, has exploited the vast spaces of the Sahara and Sahel to hide from authorities after launching attacks or kidnapping foreigners.

"Obviously, putting into place effective and multifaceted border cooperation between our countries is crucial," Medelci said before he and his counterparts or their deputies from Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger began talks behind closed doors.

Medelci also condemned growing links between terror and criminal groups in the region which has seen a rise in weapons and drug smuggling.

AQIM, commanded from Algeria, carried out a number of brazen attacks in that country in 2007, including a suicide attack targeting the convoy of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that killed 22 and injured more than 100.

The group's sympathisers were arrested for shooting dead four French tourists in southeast of Mauritania in December 2007.

In 2008 and 2009, AQIM shifted tack, and has since carried out multiple kidnappings, and in one case a killing, of Westerners, seeking the seeking the release of Islamist prisoners or money.

The threat in the Sahel is being taken very seriously after the death of British tourist Edwin Dyer in June 2009, killed by AQIM after six months in captivity when London refused to yield to blackmail by the Islamist combatants.

AQIM is still believed to be hiding in the northern Malian desert two kidnapped Spaniards and two Italians.

Medelci called for an "unwavering and unconditional commitment" against terrorism, following a recent row with Mali over the release of four Al-Qaeda militants which AQIM had demanded in exchange for the February release of a French hostage.

Algeria and Mauritania recalled their ambassadors from Bamako after Mali released the four militants -- two from Algeria, one from Burkina Faso and one from Mauritania -- despite the fact Algiers and Nouakchott wanted to try their nationals on terrorism related charges.

While calling "security and peace a precondition to the development" of the Sahara-Sahel region, Medelci also reminded his counterparts of their obligation to help "those most deprived".

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 10:07 AM
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