Friday, 16 July 2010

Frenchman abducted in northern Niger

The situation is very different south of the Algerian border. On the evening of 21 April, within 24 hours of the much-hyped opening of the joint command headquarters at Tamanras­set (SF 2010.01) and an Algerian announce­ment that there would be 75,000 troops in the area by 2012, a Frenchman and his Algerian driver were kidnapped near Teguidda-n-Tessemt, in northern Niger.

The two men had driven south from Tamanras­set and through the In Guezzam border post. The Frenchman, Michel Germaneau, aged 78, is retired and wanted to check on the progress of a school being built at In Abangerit by a charity with which he is associated. His driver, Abedine Ouaghe (known as Dino), is an Algerian from Tamanrasset who works with his brother's tour­ism agency in Agades.

Niger security sources stated that the two were abducted by Taleb Abdoulkrim's group, which claims to be part of that Al Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but until now has not been involved in hostage taking. ('Taleb' is the Arabic word for an Islamic cleric.)

Abdoulkrim is the leader of the mosque at Inhal­lil and is allegedly known for violent sermons advocating the supremacy of Islam. Inhallil is the small Mali frontier settlement adjoining Bordj Mokhtar and only a short distance north of Abdelhamid Abou Zaïd's AQIM base in the Tigharghar mountains.

On 6 May, Al Jazeera cited a statement from AQIM that claimed responsibility for this latest hostage taking. AQIM was reported as saying that 'its members managed to kidnap engineer Michel Germaneau in the north of Niger on the 22nd of the previous month.' The group asked France, and those whom it called its allies in the region, to release its jailed members.

According to Niger security sources, the abduction was well planned, suggesting that Abdoulkrim had advance knowledge of his vic­tims' travel plans. Abdoulkrim is reported to have taken the two hostages back into Mali, with Abedine Ouaghe being dropped off in the desert and left to find his way to Tin Zaouatene.

He returned home after two days of alleged debriefing by the Algerian authorities but was then extradited to Niger, where he was wanted in connection with the abduction. He is cur­rently reported to be in detention in Niamey.

An article written in El Watan by the pseudony­mous Selima Tlemçani, who works closely with the Département du Renseignement et de la sécurité (DRS), confirmed that Abdoulkrim and his group were seen passing Boughessa, head­ing in the direction of Inhallil and the Tigharghar Mountains.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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