200 Days of Captivity—and Counting—for Western Aid-workers Seized in Polisario-run Camps by al-Qaeda Offshoot
$60 million ransom demanded for aid-workers & Algerian diplomats held in northern Mali
Washington, DC (May 10) — Today marks more than 200 days of captivity for Western aid-workers Rossella Urru of Italy and Ainhoa Fernández de Rincón and Enric Gonyacons of Spain, kidnapped October 23 from the Polisario-run refugee camps near Tindouf in Algeria by an al-Qaeda offshoot, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), reportedly with assistance from camp insiders. News accounts indicate the kidnap victims are believed to be held in northern Mali.
Last week, MUJAO demanded $60 million for the two women aid-workers, Urru and Rincón, as well as for the seven diplomats it abducted April 5 when northern Mali was overrun. No mention was made of Gonyacons, the third hostage. The ransom demand was seen as a setback in efforts to free the hostages. MUJAO says negotiations continue for the two women.
Al-Qaeda’s consolidation of power in northern Mali, which this week saw the burning of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Timbuktu, highlights the increasing volatility in Africa’s Sahara/Sahel. This poses a growing 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 US aid 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/Chronology on Polisario-camp member links to AQIM/traffickers, go to: http://moroccoonthemove.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/thecasefordurablesolutions-chronology.pdf
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