Moroccan American Center for Policy / AFP (Washington, DC and Bamako, Mali, May 22, 2012) — Tonight marks seven months in captivity for Western aid-workers Rossella Urru of Italy and Ainhoa Fernández de Rincón and Enric Gonyacons of Spain, who were kidnapped from a Polisario-run refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria on October 23 by an al-Qaeda offshoot, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), reportedly with the help of camp insiders.
The three are thought to be held hostage in northern Mali, where last week AFP reported their captors threatened to kill Spanish aid-worker Gonyacons if their ransom demands were not met. “Spain is postponing every round of negotiations to answer our demands, and this is going to put the life of hostage Enrico Gonyalons to an end,” said Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui, spokesman for MUJAO.
Earlier this month, MUJAO demanded $60 million for the two women aid-workers, Urru and Rincón, as well as for seven Algerian diplomats it abducted April 5 when northern Mali was overrun. Gonyalons wasn’t mentioned at the time. But in its latest statement, the terrorist group threatened his life and also demanded the release of two Sahrawis arrested by Mauritania for their role in carrying out the abduction of the three aid-workers in the Polisario-run camps.
“Spain must understand our message… Spain will carry all responsibility” for whatever happens, the MUJAO spokesman said in a written message to AFP.
Al-Qaeda’s consolidation of power in northern Mali, which on May 4 witnessed the burning of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Timbuktu, highlights the increasing volatility in Africa’s Sahara/Sahel. This poses a escalating danger to the region. New reports from Carnegie Endowment, Atlantic Council, and International Center for Terrorism Studies document that the Polisario-run camps are becoming a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers.
Members of the Polisario-run camps are reported to be involved in drug and arms trafficking, armed incursions into Mali, as well as being mercenaries for Qaddafi in Libya, and involved in kidnappings and collaboration with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The Carnegie Paper calls deteriorating conditions in the camps “a tinderbox waiting to explode” and links between AQIM and members of the Polisario-run camps “a major security threat to the Maghreb and the Sahel.”
Since 1990, international support for the camps has exceeded $1 billion—and USaid exceeds $300 million. Given escalating security concerns, a new report recommends that US support to UNHCR for the camps also be used for durable solutions to resettle refugees and improve humanitarian conditions.
* For a Report and Chronology on Polisario-camp member links to AQIM and traffickers, go to: http://moroccoonthemove.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/thecasefordurablesolutions-chronology.pdf