The North African branch of al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Italians in Mauritania earlier this month.
Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb said in an audio message broadcast on the Al-Arabiya television news channel that they had kidnapped the Italians on December 19 because of Italy's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Italian media has named the couple as Sergio Cicala, 65, and his wife Philomene Kabouree, 39, who is from Burkina Faso and has dual Italian and Burkina Faso citizenship.
Italy's foreign ministry has said it is using political and diplomatic channels to try to secure the release of the couple who are believed to have been travelling to Mali.
At the time of the kidnapping, Italian state television said the couple's minibus had been found riddled with bullets, without citing its sources for the report.
Mauritanian officials have said they have arrested and are interrogating a Malian citizen who they think may be responsible for the kidnap.
Armed groups, some of them with links to al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, operate across the vast, remote desert zone, which includes eastern Mauritania, northern Mali and southern Algeria.
The Italians' kidnapping came nearly three weeks after three Spanish aid workers were seized in Mauritania.