en Germany paid ransom to free hostages, captured Islamic militant says
PARIS, August 5 (AFP)
Germany paid a ransom to free a group of European tourists taken hostage last year in Algeria’s Sahara desert, the leader of the Islamic group responsible told French magazine Paris Match in an exclusive interview published Thursday.
Amari Saifi, the second-in-charge of the Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) — Algeria’s top militant group which has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda — gave the interview in northern Chad, where he is being held by the rebel Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT).
Although it has long been suspected that Germany paid around five million euros (six million dollars) to have the hostages freed, up to now there has been no confirmation of any payment.
Questioned about the exact sum paid, Saifi told Paris Match: « We made a promise with the German government to not divulge the amount. »
He added that « most was spent buying supplies for our brothers in Algeria. We also bought weapons and ammunition. »
The French journalist who interviewed him, Patrick Forestier, described Saifi — who is also known as Abderrezak « the Para » for his time as a paratrooper in the Algerian army — as being imprisoned in a grotto and wearing handcuffs subsequent to several escape attempts.
A photograph accompanying that article showed the bearded Algerian militant, cuffed and wearing traditional desert garb, half-lying on the ground.
Saifi led the GSPC group that consecutively kidnapped 32 European tourists — most of them Germans — in February and March 2003 as they crossed the Sahara in small groups in cars or on motorbikes.
Seventeen of the tourists — 10 Austrians, six Germans and a Swede — were freed in May 2003 during an assault by the Algerian army.
Three months later, nine Germans, four Swiss and a Dutchman were released in Mali following negotiations between the GSPC and the German government. One other hostage, a German woman, died while in captivity.
Germany issued an international arrest warrant last September for Saifi over the kidnappings.
The MDJT said in mid-March this year that they had captured Saifi and o ther GSPC members. It has since repeatedly expressed willingness to turn Saifi over to Algeria, which wants to put him on trial.