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Desert Travels - Motorcycle Journeys in the Sahara and West Africa!

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  #1  
Old 8 Apr 2003
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Missing tourists in Algeria - Latest

Sorry to open a new thread when there's alreadu half a dozen. I thought this latest news deserved being prominent.

Cheers.

MD.

Sahara tunnels could solve mystery of missing tourists

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By Tony Paterson in Berlin
08 April 2003


Desert nomads were reported yesterday to have discovered an abandoned vehicle and a network of tunnels in a remote region of southern Algeria thought likely to provide clues about the mysterious disappearance of 29 western tourists in the Sahara over the past seven weeks.

Germany's ARD television channel said the off-road vehicle was found in a mountainous district north of the Algerian town of Tamanrasset at the weekend by a camel train of nomads passing through the region. The vehicle was left parked outside the entrance to a complex system of underground caves linked by tunnels. The nomads said they suspected the caves "were inhabited", although they had not entered the system to find out.

The nomads' find appeared to be the first clue so far in an increasingly desperate search for the missing tourists, whose number increased to 29 last week after Austria announced that eight of its citizens had disappeared in the region. Sixteen Germans, four Swiss and a Dutchman have gone missing in the Algerian Sahara since the beginning of March.

On Sunday, a team of five investigators from Germany's Federal Criminal Bureau were dispatched to Algiers to join Algerian and other German police in the hunt for the missing tourists. All 29 were in three groups that were exploring the region independently in off-road vehicles.

The last evidence of their whereabouts is a photograph taken by a friend of the missing tourists that shows six of the explorers with a car and three motorcycles while taking a break on a pass in the Algerian mountains on 21 February. Two days later, the first group disappeared. German and Algerian investigators suspect the tourists may have been taken hostage by a militant Islamist group, known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), which has links to al-Qa'ida. The GSPC is fighting the Algerian authorities and has been active in the central Sahara for years.

However, no ransom demand has so far been made. "We cannot rule out any possibility; there have been no demands," said a German Federal Criminal Bureau spokesman. He said the search had been widened to include the use of helicopters equipped with heat-seeking cameras.

German tour operators had recently insisted that Algeria's southern Sahara rated as a relatively problem-free area. However, Germany's Sahara Club, which organises trips to the region, strongly criticised the German Foreign Ministry yesterday for failing to do enough to warn tourists of the dangers. "The warnings have been inadequate. The Foreign Ministry and the Algerian authorities are overstretched. They cannot be counted on to help," it said in a statement.

The club claimed it had warned the German authorities about the dangers of the region some three weeks ago but had been ignored. It said it suspected the tourists had been captured by a "well-organised group" that had extensive contacts beyond Algeria's borders.
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Old 8 Apr 2003
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I have phoned today to a journalist of the french newspaper "Le monde" about the "network of tunnels dicovered " near Illizi . He said to me this information was not true .
Who said the truth ?
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Old 8 Apr 2003
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I also heard on the weekend that this info - exciting tho it sounds for newspapers - is not so significant. It has been 4 days now after all.

CS
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Old 9 Apr 2003
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Today I heard on german radio that a german team of investigators including guys of the anti-terror brigade GSG-9 were sent to Algeria to support the searching.

Lets hope for all the best !
Gijs.
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  #5  
Old 9 Apr 2003
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Story made it to BBC radio4's news this morning. The BBC website for the "Today" programme
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/
Hasnt got a copy but there may be something in the 'News'pages
Interview with an Austrian spokesman.British press seem obsessed with 'Terrorists' living in tunnels,The guest interviewee put them right about their translation problem.

Sean
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Old 9 Apr 2003
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Unfortunatly a piece has just appeared in the NY Times suggesting they all got lost because of no GPS (in the words of a Tam tour operator...)

In case anyone is in any doubt (and as some of you will know) this is bollocks.

Chris S
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  #7  
Old 9 Apr 2003
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If you had no GPS, you wouldn't have got that far anyway as far as I can tell. Just as you said Chris - BS.

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  #8  
Old 9 Apr 2003
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Actually Jon I can tell you that GPS is not essential along A5 where the first 3 groups went missing, (tho it helps at a couple of places). Wee first did it in 89 just working it out.
Also we did the far side of Tifernine and I did Afara in December (where the other 3 are thought to have disappeared) also without GPS (although I logged it for the next book of course. (I was busy chipping out rock pictures for a Sotheby's auction at the time ;-)

It looks like the Alg travel agencies are winning the protaganda war - but not for long!

CS
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Old 9 Apr 2003
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is it possible that they got lost becouse of a gps error introduced by the americans because of the iraque war?

but even so, they wouldn't disapear in thin air...

renato
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  #10  
Old 10 Apr 2003
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Perhaps I didn't put it very well Chris. Whilst you can navigate almost anywhere without GPS, it certainly helps and most experienced desert travellers (or at least the ones I know here in the Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia) wouldn't consider leaving on a major expedition without using it.

There's been a couple of places on the net where I've read people talking about GPS selective availability. Yes we all know that the US DoD can switch that on if they want, but our experiences here (and we're a lot nearer to Iraq than most of you (except perhaps A.B.) all through the war on Iraq has been that GPS signal has been perfectly as normal. I doubt that GPS selective availability caused them to get lost and thus their disappearance.

Let's pray that these individuals are all found alive and well. It's all really tragic.

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Old 10 Apr 2003
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Can a GPS error be a local thing? I remember reading posts from folks in Iran stating that GPS was still working fine, even with the war in Irak.
So I think that option is ruled out.

The fact that the NY times writes an article that is complete bullocks doesn't suprise me. Wonder why they, at a moment when it is clear to everyone that they can't be lost and having a pick nick somewhere in the dessert, are writing this? Even on US-based internet news sites this option has not been mentioned as far as I have read.

I do believe that there is a well organised group behind this whole thing. Just hope they don't move again or start a second operation.

Also, how many locals over there can ride a motobike in the desert or on pistes? NOt that much I guess. So most likely they need some decent pickup's or even a lorry to move those to the place were they are hiding these. I can't imagin that you can hide all these vehicules that easely unless in caves or very narrow gorges.
And shouldn't all this moving leave some traces behind?

Just some questions that keep boggling my mind.


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http://users.pandora.be/pieter.maes2/
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  #12  
Old 10 Apr 2003
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the terrorists/bandits don't need to ride the bikes: its easy to get the owners to cooperate when you give them little fuel and water so there's no way out.
the good thing that I read into the reported sighting of 7 bikes, the van and some cars moving together is that, most likely, the riders were riding their own bikes and that means that, although captive, they were still alive and well.

[This message has been edited by RichLees (edited 10 April 2003).]

[This message has been edited by RichLees (edited 11 April 2003).]
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  #13  
Old 11 Apr 2003
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Rich, who told you the vehicles have been seen at night ? Where ? Which date ? Which hour ?
Please mail this to me, no public statement here. Tx, Marina_b_m@yahoo.com
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Old 12 Apr 2003
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Looks like it's not over yet - another car has been reported missing - an Austrian L300 van with two people bringing the total up to 31 people, 18 vehicles and now 7 groups (although it is thought the Mitsubishi may be have been travelling with group 6).

See Sahara.../news

Chris S

[This message has been edited by Chris Scott (edited 12 April 2003).]
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  #15  
Old 12 Apr 2003
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There's an article in today's Telegraph Travel supplement. Doesn't really say much we don't already know. I've scanned it here in case anyone's interested:

http://ichapp.users.btopenworld.com/...el_12Apr03.tif

[This message has been edited by IanC (edited 12 April 2003).]
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