Mauritania: Tighter security after Al-Qaeda abductions

Nouakchott, 21 Dec. (AKI) - Mauritania government has increased security for tourists in the country following the abductions last week of two Italian tourists near the border with Mali. Sergio Cicala and his wife Philomene Kabouree were kidnapped in an area of Mauritania where armed groups with links to Al-Qaeda are known to operate, diplomats said.

There are suspicions the couple may have been smuggled into neighbouring Mali.

"After these new kidnappings, it has been decided to adopt all necessary measures to ensure the personal security of foreigners in our country," the government said, quoted on Monday by pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi.

It was the first official statement by the Mauritanian government since the kidnapping of 65-year-old Cicala and his 39-year old wife who is from Burkina Faso. She has dual Italian and Burkina Faso citizenship.

The couple's driver, from Ivory Coast, was also reportedly missing from their bullet ridden vehicle.

In a statement posted on its website late on Saturday, the Italian foreign ministry asked for media discretion "to guarantee the safety of the hostages and favour a positive solution to the case."

Eastern Mauritania, northern Mali and southern Algeria form a vast desert area where armed groups operate, some of which are known to have links to Al-Qaeda's armed branch in North Africa. There have been a number of kidnappings in the region.

Three Spanish aid workers disappeared in Mauritania last month after an attack on their convoy.

Malian security sources believe the trio is being held in Malian territory by the Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb.

In an audio tape aired earlier this month by Arabic satellite TV network, Al-Jazeera, Al-Qaeda claimed the abductions of the three Spanish aid workers and French citizen Pierre Camatte seized in Mali on 25 November.

In June this year, an American teacher was killed in Mauritania. Al-Qaeda later claimed it had killed him for spreading Christianity in a predominantly Muslim country.

In May, Al-Qaeda also claimed to have killed British hostage Edwin Dyer, who was among a group of Western tourists abducted on the border between Mali and Niger in January.


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