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Al-Qaeda's North African Folly

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a new set of demands on April 7 for the release of the two Austrian tourists, Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber, the terrorist group kidnapped in Tunisia back in February. The specifics of the kidnapping were detailed previously at ThreatsWatch and can be viewed here.

AQIM's Internet posting was placed after the passage of a deadline given by the group for action by the Austrian government. In the statement, Al-Qaeda's North African wing absolved itself of blame for any harm to come to the couple, instead pointing the finger at the lack of compliance from the Austrian government. Though details are sketchy, reports suggest that the two Austrian civilians are being held captive in Mali, near its border with Algeria. The communique outlined two demands: the withdrawal of the Austrian military contingent from Afghanistan (only two Austrian soldiers are involved in NATO's mission there) and the release of two Austrian Muslims, Mohammed Mahmoud and his wife, who are being held in an Austrian prison after convictions on making terrorist threats against Austria and Germany.

As this hostage situation has evolved, it's become evident that these members of AQIM are perhaps grasping at straws amid two previously passed deadlines and shifting demands, which previously included the release of captured jihadists in Tunisia. Some form of strategic rationale can normally be gleaned from terrorist actions. The actions here appear to have less rationale in any grand strategic outcome desired in Afghanistan than in simple monetary gains the abductors seek through ransom. The sliding scale of unmet - and adjusted - demands support such a conclusion.

1 Comment

You might see the situation as AQIM testing exactly what the safety of two Austrian tourists are worth to their government and allies. Apart from creating unease for those that are trying to resolve the affair (IE. always possible the hostages may be executed),and making a local statement as to AQIMs existence and oparability, therefore gaining local 'aproval' amongst some, and helping disuade western presence (tourism), which directly harms the governments status, they will be setting some kind of negotiating precedent for future actions of this kind. Whether the hostage taking was mostly oportunistic (within the general framework of AQ activity - seems likely), or part of a strategy planned for a specific result, we may never know.