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A veteran of southern Algeria, an Italian 56 years, Sandra Maria Mariani, a native of Florence and the mother of a child, was kidnapped last Wednesday in the late afternoon, when she had just arrived at a former fort, used as an inn, located Alidena, 250 km south of Djanet (wilaya Illizi), and less than a hundred kilometers from the border with Niger.
According to local sources, was held hostage with her driver and guide from the Ténéré tourism agency based in Djanet, keeper of the site and a shepherd in the region, when two vehicles, 4X4 Standard Station , arrived. "It was about 18:30 or so. Turbaned men, heavily armed, numbering 13 or 14, an Arabic speaking Mauritanian got out and after checking his identity, they took her to an unknown destination, "say our sources, noting that before leaving, the attackers destroyed the lights of the guide's vehicle (a 4x4). Panicked, he returned to town and alerted the gendarmerie brigade of Djanet, which was the first to be informed, before the tourism agency. Immediately after, a search was initiated. According to reports from some guides in the region, kidnapping is a real surprise. "First, because the area is very secure, given the number of barracks that exist around even if the distance between them is large. Then by the fact that many tourists are currently on the scene and have never been worried with regard to security arrangements in place in the area ... "they tell us.
However, they do not rule out the thesis of "complicity" somewhere that could give "directions or instructions" on the bivouac places for terrorists. The Italian is no stranger to the region. "For over 5 years, she spent periods of three weeks, a month and up to two months in this area quite well and she knows she loves. She arrived in Djanet January 20 last. She spent a week in Tadrart then she returned to Djanet, to refuel before heading back to the desert. Maybe she could have been followed, but why her? There are many tourists in that area? "Says Kherrani, director of the agency Tenere, which has lavished praise on his guide, saying:" It's one of my best guides. He worked for 16 years at the agency level and knows the region inside out. This man is a mine of information. He can not venture into a place without making sure it is secure. Have the terrorists followed him? We do not know. What is certain is that those who kidnapped the tourists and speak Mauritanian, they are not Algerian or Touareg, "says Kherrani, which states that he was in Ouargla when the kidnapping took place, and that Djanet is reached yesterday. For him, "everything is still confused.
Operations search by the security services supported by the guides of the region continues. Resources have been deployed for this operation and we expect results. " Kherrani feared that the tourism sector Sahara, "already very affected by what happens in Mali and Niger," suffer "like a knockout," the dramatic consequences of such an act. "The few tourists who still come will be scared and abandon Algeria final destination," he says.
I don't think the Alg gendarmes will cross the border, which means it was too late from the start. Like Richard wrote, the spot was well chosen.
But they must've been informed? Desert rule #1 - don't tell anyone where your bivouac is going to be.
Italy does not want initiatives that threaten the lives of the hostage
The Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnapping of an Italian tourist in Djanet and asked the Algerian authorities to "take no initiatives" that endanger its security. In a statement released yesterday, the Italian foreign ministry said: "He was asked relevant Algerian counterparts do not take action (...) which can endanger the safety of the Italian citizen (... ) as in all cases of kidnapping of Italian citizens, Italy will keep the reserve required on this matter so as not to interfere with research activities. "
"The site is not far from Alidéna Tadrart. It is very secure and many tourists frequent it regularly" says M. Hamdaoui, president of the Association of Tourism Agencies of Tamanrasset. But the testimony of the guide that accompanied the tourists leave no doubt about the authors. According to him, "a band of 13 or 14 armed men in turbans and came aboard two 4X4 Station, raided the site at the time of the Maghreb (sunset). One of them had their faces uncovered. He spoke Arabic Mauritania. " They ask "where is the group of tourists" and he replies: "There are no tourists here." The attackers searched the premises and discovered the Italian. They demand the identity papers of three Algerians (the guardian of the site, the guide and a shepherd).
"They took away the papers and phones before asking me what agency I worked for. When I told him I was Ténéré of Kherrani, they said: 'Tell him he must stop this activity. It is contrary to the principles of Islam. " I wanted to know who he was and his reply was, 'We Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb'. "
"They blindfolded us and took us with them aboard our 4x4. We drove a long time before they abandon us at the border with Niger. "This evidence suggests that the kidnappers have certainly left the country to reach the Niger.
(ANSA) - ALGIERS, 6 FEB - One of the guides who accompanied the Sahara Sandra Maria Mariani, the Florentine kidnapped in Algeria, and 'was arrested. ANSA said Anis Rahmani, editor of the daily Ennahar, one of the most 'informed Algerian terrorism. And''The Man 'was arrested yesterday - said Rahmani - was involved in the abduction. This arrest and 'a very positive sign, the Algerian security services are following all the tracks.'' Meanwhile, according to reports in San Casciano, where the woman lives, relatives await news from a phone call scheduled for tomorrow with the Foreign Ministry. (ANSA).
Kherrani of Tenere Agency: "'Aziz - he said, referring to the arrested guide - work with me for 16 years" and "Sandra is a friend, is now a family. From her first trip in 2007 she had been so excited as to even ask me to work here. Since then she has returned every year in the oasis, and has always moved with the same guide."
So a real tragedy if the guide was involved. But the next report indicates he was not.
- Is it true that they followed the car from the guide?
The traces confirm this. Apparently the kidnappers were in Djanet. They followed the guide until Alidéna and took the hostages to the border with Niger, where they released three Algerians and kept the Italian tourist for a destination in Niger. However, this site I must repeat is safe.
... I do not understand why those who are responsible for the survey reject our proposals, our material resources and guides to go in search of the hostage even outside the country.
The refusal by the algies to pursue across the borders even when they are invited (as they were at Tin Zahouatine last year) is senseless.
My guess is that the Algerian authorities have detained the three local Algerians who were present during the kidnapping so that they can work out precisely what happened.
Two years ago I had long discussions with guides in Algeria about security and kidnapping. I was interested in trying to work out why no kidnappings had happened in Algeria and what role the guide could possibly play in this. The guide concerned said something quite striking to me. He said that if we, as tourists were afraid of being kidnapped, then the guides were even more afraid because the Algerian authorities make the guides responsible for the client. If something were to happen, then the guides would have a lot of explaining to do.
So I think that the guides are busy doing that explaining. I think the authorities will want to rule out the involvement of the agency or to trace the possible leaking of info about the route. They will also probably be asking whether their car was followed out of Djanet.
Email today from my friend in Djanet express the sentiments they have
hier tout les agences chez la police pour relache le guide et le gardien aujourd'hui tout les jeunes font un ensemble devant la police pour la meme raison et tous dans leurs tetes de ne plus laisse arrive ça dans notre region
In the terse audio message in French, the woman identified herself as Maria Sandra Mariani.
"I am the Italian woman who was abducted on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011, near Djanet in Algeria," she said. "I am still detained by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb."
The al-Qaida spokesman, speaking in Arabic, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
"We are al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Tarek bin Ziad battalion," the voice said. "I am speaking on behalf of Abdelhamid Abu Zaid, and this woman is his hostage since Wednesday Feb. 2, 2011. Her demand is that her message be announced so that her president and government hear it."
The Italian tourist kidnapped in Algeria on Feb. 2 said to be alive and in the hands of Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in an audiotape released Friday at dawn by the television channel Al-Arabiya, based in Dubai.
In this article Tlemcani suggests that the agencies in Djanet are actually involved in search operations beyond the borders with the neighbouring countries.
Also points out some irregularities. The audio was first transmitted from Al Arabiya, rather than Al Jazeera or the islamist websites they normally use. There was an unusually long delay in claiming the kidnap. Suggesting this was caused by an early refusal by Abu Zeid to accept the woman from the Mauri smugglers (?) who were trying to sell her off. But then he took her anyway.
Remains to see what leverage the touaregs in Djanet have with those involved in holding her in Mali. Let's hope they let her go!
The word here in Alg from a couple of people I spoke to is that it was either the work of Air bandits who did the frequent robberies over the years; Or aonther guy (who had much to lose from telling me this) claimed it was people from Djanet;
This supports the suggestion above that she was grabbed to be sold on to ABZ/AQIM;
Sounds to me like it was a regular AQIM kidnapping party, complete with Mauritanians but that they were operating with the benefit of local knowledge. It seems to me they knew about the number of tourists passing through Alidena and going on to the Tadrart. They were there in the right month and planned to pick up several tourists. There aren't many places with a regular supply of tourists now. The Niger Tenere and Air are closed, N.Mali must be very quiet and Assekrem in Algeria is too confined.
This I believe to be facts:
-the abductors were 13-14 in two 4x4s
-they spoke Mauritanian arabic (no mention of other languages spoken)
-tracks show they were tracing the abductee's car from Djanet
-they were looking for a tourist party but only found the woman, and took her straight to Niger
-after 17 days there was an audio message released on Al Arabiya
The rest is speculation. If indeed there were people from Djanet involved, they would carry the burden of having destroyed the lifeline of the region.
Would 14 Mauritanians in two cars near Djanet really be 'smugglers'?
Are you in Tam, Chris? Any tourists there?
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