UN Sec. Gen expresses “deep concern,” calls for their “immediate release”
Washington, DC (November 4, 2011) — Three European aid workers continue to be held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) after being kidnapped from refugee camps controlled by the Polisario Front near Tindouf, Algeria last week. According to reports, Polisario members in the camps helped the kidnappers by supplying weapons and directions to the victims’ location. The two Spanish and one Italian hostages are being held at an undisclosed location. They remain alive, though no demands or conditions for their release have been made, despite considerable efforts by the international community.
Agence France Press (AFP) reports that “less than ten unarmed AQIM militants had entered the Sahrawi refugee camp in Tindouf, western Algeria, where sympathizers of the Polisario Front gave them weapons and helped them seek out the hostages, who were working in the camp.” An AQIM mediator further confirmed that the armed assailants were “wearing the Polisario uniform.”
US officials warn that rising terrorism and instability in the vast, lawless areas of Africa’s Sahel, which includes the refugee camps controlled by the Polisario—a separatist group seeking to control the Western Sahara—pose a significant and growing threat to US interests.
Recently, Obama Administration Chief Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan said, “Al-Qaeda traditionally has taken advantage of areas that are wracked by conflict, turmoil and lack of government. It is a safe haven they seek to launch attacks.” According to the International Center for Terrorism Studies, attacks by AQIM and other terrorist groups have increased more than 500% in the last decade in North Africa and the Sahel, which has seen an influx of smuggled Libyan arms over the past year.
The Spanish Government has asked the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to immediately send a mission to the Polisario camps to investigate safety conditions of the thousands of Sahrawi refugees held there, along with nearly 50 other Spanish aid workers still volunteering in the tightly controlled camps. Following years of numerous credible allegations of illicit trafficking of people, drug and arms, and embezzlement of international humanitarian aid, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees has attempted to conduct a census in the Polisario refugee camps, but has been refused by Algeria.
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