Army chiefs meet over African Al-Qaeda threat
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Army chiefs from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are meeting in southern Algeria on Sunday to discuss security in the region. Meanwhile, AFP says a Malian source has confirmed that seven hostages kidnapped in Niger last week are alive in Mali.
The security meeting will focus on “a common strategy in the fight against terrorism and organised crime,” according to the Algerian defence ministry. It is taking place in Tamanrasset, where Algeria has set up a military post to better cooperate with Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Analyst George Joffey warns no one can be 100 per cent sure the hostages are alive because it's still unclear exactly which faction of Aqim has taken them, but said it seems likely.
"Almost certainly they were seized not only to make a point against the French presence in Africa but also to hold them against ransom payments as a demonstration of the power of the groups in the Sahara to affect policies of Western states," he says.
He adds that it is difficult to assess the political will among the governments in the region to combat the threat from Aqim. Attempts to coordinate military action in the area have been going on for several months.
"One has to ask why have these initiatives been so inefficient? On every occasion when hostages have been taken or there have been armed incidents, we've heard the same rhetoric again about coordinating action, and I'm not certain that this meeting necessarily will imply that there be a greater coordination of action that it will be more effective."
The seven employees of French energy company Areva were kidnapped ten days ago in northern Niger by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim). The French foreign ministry said on Satuday it was optimistic they were still alive because Aqim had claimed responsibility for the abduction, suggesting the group has specific demands. But Aqim's stated motive was revenge for French military raids on their fighters.
France has deployed 80 troops to the Niger capital Niamey in a bid to rescue the hostages, despite a warning from Aqim not to make any armed attempts. France, meanwhile, has been on security threat level "reinforced red" as the government warns of terror threats in French territory.