Austrian hostage deadline extended by week: statement

Austrian hostage deadline extended by week: statement

17 march 2008

DUBAI (AFP) — An internet statement posted in the name of Al-Qaeda on Monday said the group had extended until next weekend its ultimatum for the release of prisoners in exchange for two Austrian tourists.

The jihadist network’s north African branch also threatened to kill the two hostages in the event of any attempt to free them by force in the statement posted on an Islamist website.

« The mujahedeen (holy warriors) have decided to give Austria one more week starting from midnight Sunday, » the statement said.

The extension came in « response to a request from the negotiator, » the statement added without specifying the identity of the go-between in the negotiations.

The statement warned that « the mujahedeen will hold Austria, Tunisia and Algeria responsible for the lives of the hostages if the new deadline passes without our demands being met. »

Originally, the kidnappers had given the Austrian government until midnight last Sunday to secure the release of a number of Islamists imprisoned in Algeria and Tunisia in exchange for the Austrians’ freedom.

But the deadline was extended at the last minute amid reports that talks were switching focus to a possible ransom.

Monday’s statement warned that « any attempt to free the hostages by force will result in failure » and trigger the « immediate execution of the hostages. »

The statement’s authenticity could not be verified but it was posted on a website often used by Al-Qaeda in the past.