Snatched Italian tourist held by Al-Qaida in Algeria: TV

22:22, February 18, 2011      

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Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV aired on Friday an audiotape for an Italian woman who said she was snatched by an Al-Qaida offset in Algeria early this month.

"I am Maria Sandra Mariani, an Italian woman who was kidnapped on February 2 near Djanet in Algeria," the woman said in the tape.

"I am still detained by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb at the hands of the Tarek ibn Zyad battalion led by Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, " she said.

Abou Zeid, listed by both the U.N. and U.S. as a known Al-Qaida member, has previously been accused of involvement in other abductions in the region over recent years.

The Italian woman, 53, arrived in Algeria on Jan. 25 for a vacation scheduled for one month.

She was snatched in an area located about 130 kilometers south of Djanet, the main town in southeastern Algeria.

Before broadcasting the tape, a proclaimed Qaida member claimed in Arabic that the North African branch of Al-Qaeda is holding the woman.

"We are the Al-Qaida organization in the Islamic Maghreb, the Tarek ibn Zyad battalion. I am speaking on behalf of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid. This woman is his hostage since Wednesday February 2, 2011," he said. "Her demand is to air her message so that her president and government can hear it."

Algeria faces an increasing threat by Islamist militants since the 1990s. The security forces have recently launched massive military operations against pro-al-Qaida groups, including the Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The AQIM operates in a vast desert area across Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, where it carries out a string of kidnappings of westerners.

Source: Xinhua
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