Monday, 15 October 2012

Gunmen kidnap five aid workers, driver in Niger

Gunmen have abducted five aid workers and a driver in Niger, a country which borders troubled Mali and Nigeria and where Al-Qaeda’s regional branch has carried out kidnappings in the past, an official said Monday. The six were nabbed late Sunday in Dakoro, a village in southeastern Niger, halfway between the borders with Mali and Nigeria. “Five aid workers, including a Chadian, and a driver were kidnapped at their home around 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) by armed men driving two 4×4 vehicles” in the village of Dakoro, local official Abou Mahamane said. The abduction of the Chadian and the five of Niger nationality was confirmed by an aid group and a security source. Mahamane, who is secretary general of the Dakoro region, said the abductors “spoke Arabic, Tamasheq (the language of the Tuareg tribes) and Hausa,” a regional language. The aid workers were “kidnapped by men with pale skin and one with black skin, speaking Arabic. The Chadian probably tried to resist and was injured but he was still taken away,” said a humanitarian source. Four of the six hostages, including a doctor and a nurse, are employed by the local aid group Befen, which fights against malnutrition, and the Chadian health group Alerte-sante. In a joint statement, the two aid groups demanded “their release, with a priority for those who might have been wounded during the incident.” They also stressed that they “are only medical NGOs with no other goal than to alleviate the most precarious humanitarian situations and completely politically independent.” The kidnappers headed straight for the desert region of Agadez, further north, he said. “Security forces lost track of them in the Abala zone, about 300 kilometres (185 miles) south of Agadez, in the Tahoua region,” he added. “Reinforcements arrived at Dakoro, African humanitarian workers are still there and the site has been secured by reinforcements from Maradi and Tahoua,” he said. Dakoro is situated in the region around Maradi, the economic capital of Niger and the main town in an area close to the border with Nigeria, where the Islamist group Boko Haram operates. In connection with aid work, “Westerners often stay in Dakoro, and it is highly likely that the kidnappers were looking for them,” a diplomatic source in Niamey said. In September 2010, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the north African branch of Al-Qaeda, kidnapped seven people in the Agadez region, the birthplace of revolts by Tuaregs, and four French hostages are still held. Boko Haram and AQIM are believed to have established links in recent months. The UN Security Council on Friday urged west African countries to speed up preparations for a military intervention in northern Mali, which was seized by groups with links to AQIM in March. Niger is expected to contribute troops to the regional force. The crisis in Mali, which is effectively split in two, stems in part from the war in Libya last year which saw former Tuareg rebels who had served as Moamer Kadhafi’s mercenaries return to their home countries flush with weapons. They were mainly from Mali and Niger.

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