BAMAKO: Members of a radical Islamic group in northern Mali are claiming to have executed one of the Algerian diplomats they kidnapped five months ago, when their fighters raided the Algerian consulate in the city of Gao.
The information could not be independently verified, and the Algerian Foreign Affairs Ministry said they are investigating the rebels' claim.
Islamist leader Oumar Ould Hamaha told The Associated Press by telephone late Saturday that that the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (known by the French acronym MUJAO), had executed the diplomat in order to teach Algeria a lesson. The group had demanded that Algeria, Mali's northern neighbor, release the members of their group who had recently been arrested.
"We did this so that Algeria learns a lesson and understands that when we give an ultimatum, they need to take us seriously," said Hamaha. "And so that other countries know that when give an ultimatum in regards to their hostages, they need to act."
In Algeria, the ministry said Sunday that a press release written by the MUJAO announcing the execution "is currently the subject of testing needed to ensure its authenticity."
In a statement released through the official Algerian news agency APS, the ministry was quoted as saying that the families of the hostages in northern Mali had met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' secretary general on Saturday morning "who reminded them specifically that contact with the kidnappers was not broken. "
The ministry added that the crisis "is being dealt with openly and (we) will not fail to inform the families and the public of any new national development."
MUJAO is a relatively new group active in the deserts of northern Mali, but they are known to be allied with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, the local al-Qaida franchise which has kidnapped over 50 foreigners since 2003, most of whom were released in exchange for hefty ransoms. AQIM has, however, executed a few of the hostages, including a British man, as well as an elderly French national.