Al Qaeda claims kidnapping Italians in Mauritania


Nouakchott/Rome : Italy’s Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Monday he will travel to Mauritania where Al Qaeda’s North African branch has claimed to have kidnapped an Italian couple.

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“I will not comment any further, so as not to prejudice the safety of our nationals,” Frattini said in an interview with public television news programme TG1.

He did not specify the exact dates of his trip to the African country other than to say it would be early in January.

Earlier, Frattini said Italian intelligence services were verifying what he described as “plausible” claims by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb that it was holding the Italian couple, who were kidnapped Dec 18.

“In any event we will not negotiate with terrorists,” Frattini said.

The group kidnapped the two “in response to the crimes of the Italian government in Afghanistan and Iraq”, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb spokesman Salah Abu Mohammed said in a statement aired by the Dubai-based al-Arabiya news channel.

The statement from the Islamist group was broadcast alongside a photograph showing the 65-year-old Sergio Cicala and his 39-year-old Burkina Faso-born wife, Philomene Kaboure – her faced blurred, apparently in accordance with the strict Islamic custom of not displaying a female’s face.

The couple are shown sitting on the ground. Behind them stand five armed men, their faces partially covered by scarves.

Mauritanian security forces initially blamed the North African branch of Al Qaeda for kidnapping.

Earlier this month, the group demanded the release of imprisoned Al Qaeda operatives in exchange for the release of three Spanish aid workers abducted along Mauritania’s Atlantic coast in November.

Mauritanian security forces have for years waged a battle against Al Qaeda militants operating from the remote desert region at the intersection of Mauritania, Mali and Algeria.