The tourists, who were abducted in the Algerian Sahara earlier this year are safe, an unidentified source close to mediators working for their release said.

“It’s a delay,” the source told AFP. “I guarantee the hostages are safe and that, God willing, they will be with their families very, very soon.”  The delay resulted from the abductees being held at different locations.

The 14 hostages are the remainder of a group of 32 European adventure tourists kidnapped by a splinter faction of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), Muslim fighters reportedly linked to al-Qaida.

Algerian deserter

Amari Saifi, an Algerian army deserter, leads the group and has demanded a ransom of 5 million euros (around $5.5 million) for each of the abductees

Germany has resisted the ransom demands saying payment would set a dangerous precedent and could lead to copycat kidnappings.

Though the tourists were captured in Algeria they were then transported across the border into the wilds of Mali, one of Africa’s most sparsely populated and poorest countries.

Sixty-five percent of Mali is desert or semi-desert and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is less than $900 a year.

Algerian security

Seventeen of the hostages were freed by the Algerian security service in a raid on 13 May. Michaela Spitzer, a German woman of 45, died, reportedly from heat exhaustion, whilst in captivity.

Germany has resisted the ransom demands saying payment would set a dangerous precedent.

The crisis has been “handled by governments since the beginning,” an unidentified source close to Malian President Amadou Toumani told AFP. “It will be with great pleasure that Mali will announce its outcome.”

ZDF reported on Sunday that the ransom had been paid, though not by the German government, and the hostages freed.

Mali’s top negotiator is Iyad Ag Ghali, a Taureg chief with a reputation as a tough desert fighter.

Desert fighter

He started a rebellion in Mali when in 1990 he orchestrated a spectacular attack on a government military base in a bid to win political rights for his tribe.

Ag Ghali is highly respected in his home district in northern Mali. In 1991 he signed a peace deal with the government and has since lived peacefully.

During the rebellion he told his troops not to attack civilian targets.