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Al-Qaeda Kidnaps Austrian Tourists

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Austrian tourists in Tunisia on February 22. Al Jazeera aired an audio recording from an individual named Salah Abu Mohammed, an AQIM spokesman, who stated that the kidnapping was a response to Israeli moves against Gaza and general Western support for Israel. The spokesman also issued a general warning to Westerners against visiting the North African country. Tunisian authorities have launched a widespread hunt for the two captured Austrians, Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber. According to Abu Mohammed:

Western tourists were "searching for pleasures in Tunisia while our folk in Gaza are being slaughtered by the Jews with consent from Western countries whose governments are killing our brothers in every (Muslim) country", he said.

A second report followed:

"We also inform the State of Austria that any military action by the apostate Algerian state to free the abductees will put their lives at risk," the group said, according to a statement reported by U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group.

The latest rumors hold that the kidnapped pair have been taken to Mali, a landlocked West African nation, implying that the Austrians were successfully moved across the length of Algeria, AQIM's place of origin. The kidnapping of Westerners is somewhat unusual for al-Qaeda linked groups. These terrorist organizations, unlike the FARC in Colombia or Hizballah in Lebanon, have generally eschewed such tactics, preferring more attention grabbing coordinated bombings of high profile targets. AQIM has kidnapped people in the past, but this incident should be seen more as a move in its campaign of targeting Westerners more generally, such as the killing of four French tourists in Mali in December 2007, as opposed to any sort of new kidnapping campaign.