September 5, 2012 (TSR) – The Islamist Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) occupying northern Mali on Sunday claimed that they executed the Algerian vice-consul, one of the seven diplomatic staff members taken hostage since April 5, after the government failed to fulfill the demands within prescribed time.
In a statement posted on Jihadi websites on Saturday (September 1st), the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said it had killed defence attaché and vice-consul, Taher Touati, and threatened to execute the three other hostages still in their hands if Algiers does not comply with their demands.
The 32-year-old Taher Touati from Djelfa had married just a few months before his abduction from the Algerian consulate in Gao, capital of the self-proclaimed state of Azawad.
The three militants captured by Algerian forces are members of the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which, according to the statement, is an ally of MUJAO. “The Algerian government rejected the offer,” AFP reported, citing the statement. Consequently, Algeria will be subject to all the consequences of this refusal.”
In a video which was released on Sunday, a MUJAO terrorist known as Nabil Abou Alkama said that Algeria neglects its citizens, unlike Western states which do not hesitate to pay to save the lives of their nationals.
MUJAO previously gave Algeria until Friday to meet its ransom demands and hand over three jihadists arrested August 15th in Ghardaia, including AQIM leader Necib Tayeb (alias Abou Ishak Essoufi).
“We have carried out our threat. The hostage has been killed,” Walid Abu Sarhaoui, president of the MUJAO council, said.
“Algeria had the time to move negotiations along but did not want to. We executed the hostage on Saturday.”
He said an Algerian soldier had delivered the government’s “definitive” response on Saturday, indicating that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had rejected an agreement with MUJAO.
“The life of the other hostages will soon be in danger if Algeria doesn’t listen to us,” said Mr Sahraoui.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), or Jam??at at-taw??d wal-jih?d f? gharb ?afr?qq?y?. Mouvement pour le Tawhîd et du Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest), is an active paramilitary organisation that broke off from the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. It announced its first armed action on video in 12 December 2011 with the intended goal of spreading jihad across a larger section of West Africa, though operations have been limited to southern Algeria and northern Mali.
MUJAO, a splinter group of AQIM, along with Tuareg rebels and Islamist fighters from Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) seized two-thirds of Mali’s territory in the wake of a military coup in Bamako on March 22.
The Islamic group first seized Doeuntza, a city already in an area under its control but relatively autonomous.
According to the Malian media, Doeuntza was taken without resistance. The MUJAO entered the city, dismantled a training camp used by a local militia and consolidated their presence in the region along the road that takes to Mopti, the first large city in the zone still under control of the Bamako government.
Since April, the entire immense northern region, with its historic cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal, is under control of the MUJAO, Ansar al Din and other armed groups.
The insurgency was quickly dominated by Islamist groups which are ideologically aligned and often work together. MUJAO and countless other Islamist militant groups in Mali are known for their heavy-handed dispensing of Sharia law.
Reuters reported a spokesperson for MUJAO, Oussama Ould Abdel Kader, announced last month that all forms of music save for Quranic verses are satanic in nature and must be banned. “We, the mujahedeen of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal from now on refuse the broadcasting of all western music on radios on Islamic land,” defending the decision by saying “Sharia demands it.”
On 19 July, Ansar Dine publicly executed a couple in Mali’s remote town of Aguelhok, near Algeria’s border. The couple was tried by Ansar Dine members in the town for having “extra-conjugal relations,” Reuters reported.
They have since sidelined their Tuareg allies and enforced strict Islamic law, whipping and stoning transgressors and in the case of Ansar Dine, destroying ancient world heritage sites in the fabled city of Timbuktu.
MUJAO claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of seven Algerian diplomatic staff members in April 5. The hostages, one consul and six other consular staff members were based in the Algerian consulate in the city of Gao. The death of Algerian vice-consul Tahar Touati still has to be confirmed independently, though the MUJAO statement released by the Mauritian ANI news agency leaves little hope.
Algiers says it never interrupted negotiations with the group and expressed “surprise” over the news of the vice-consul’s death. Algerian officials reacted with caution to the news, and are still waiting for the “official confirmation” of the diplomat’s execution. They said that they were still in touch with the kidnappers and were working to verify the information.
“On Saturday morning, the families of the Algerian consular officials who are being held hostage in northern Mali met the general secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who told them in particular that contact with the kidnappers had not been broken off,” Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said in a statement released by APS.
The MUJAO has threatened Algeria with reprisal attacks after the Algerian government refused a prisoner swap – to exchange an Algerian held captive by the group for three militants who had been arrested in August by Algerian security forces in the southern Algerian town of Ghardaia.
Walid Sahraoui, a MUJAO official, gave an ultimatum to the Algerian government to co-operate in August: “We are giving an ultimatum of less than five days, starting from now, to save the life of the (Algerian) hostage.” The group vowed to “treat the Algerian authorities firmly,” and to “defend our mujahedeen brothers… until the fall of the military regime in Algeria.”
Mohamed Drif, an expert on Islamist groups, said in an interview with El Khabar that MUJAO had initially abducted Spanish and Italian nationals and demanded 30 million euros for their release.
“When they kidnapped the Algerian diplomats, they demanded a ransom of 15 million euros to begin with,” Drif said. “This group wants to give credence to its threats, that’s why it changed its demand and demanded the release of AQIM members who were arrested recently, because they know that the Algerian authorities take a tough stance on ransom payments.”
He pointed out that MUJAO has adopted the same approach as al-Qaeda.
“The execution of the hostage would appear to be a move aimed at Algeria, but in reality it is aimed at the West,” he said.
The newly formed unity government of Cheick Modibo Diarra are mulling over two options: a military intervention backed by nations of the region or a negotiation being pushed particularly by Burkina Faso.
The family of the executed hostage declined to make any comment.