JANUARY 18, 2012 LEAVE A COMMENT
Al Qaeda is holding hostage an Algerian regional governor who was kidnapped near the Libyan border, security sources said on Tuesday, an incident that will raise new concerns about militants exploiting Libya’s security vacuum.
The kidnapping, deep in the Sahara desert, was the most audacious attack on a senior Algerian official in years. A security expert said al Qaeda has been emboldened by the fact its fighters could use Libya, in turmoil since Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow, as a safe haven.
Mohamed Laid Khelfi, governor of the Illizi region about 1,700 km south-east of the Algerian capital, was driving away from a meeting on the Libyan border on Monday afternoon when three armed men stopped his convoy, the Interior Ministry said.
The attackers released his driver and an aide, but took the governor in the direction of the Libyan border, a ministry statement said. He later made telephone contact with his family, but his location is unknown.
The ministry did not identify the kidnappers, saying only they were young men who were known to the authorities.
“All arrangements have been put in place and the appropriate resources have been mobilised at all levels to ensure the governor is freed as quickly as possible,” said the statement, which was carried by the state news agency.
Two Algerian security officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the governor was being held by al Qaeda’s north African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
“The governor is in the hands of AQIM, who have already contacted his parents,” said one of the officials.
AQIM carries out kidnappings, ambushes and suicide bombings, mainly in Algeria but also in neighbouring states which straddle the Sahara desert.
With backing from Western states which are concerned the group could spread its activities further afield, Algerian security forces have been able to reduce the insurgency to a small rump of fighters hiding out in remote areas.
But the instability in Libya could give AQIM a new lease of life by providing the insurgents with a source of weapons, and a safe haven in vast desert tracts which the new Libyan authorities lack the capacity to police.