Up to 17 killed as troops engage al-Qaeda fighters inside Mali following abductions of foreign nationals.
Algeria has created a military post in in the south of the country to coordinate activities against al Qaeda [AFP]
Army chiefs and counter-terrorism experts from Africa’s Sahel region have met in southern Algeria in a bid to coordinate regional efforts against the growing threat of al Qaeda linked fighters in the region.
Sunday’s meeting in the desert town of Tamanrasset is focusing on “terrorism and organised crime,” Algerian army chief of staff General Ahmed Gaid Sakah said in his opening speech.
Drawing together anti-terrorism specialists from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, the meeting aims to set clear objectives in the strategy against al Qaeda, Sakah said, and also to provide an opportunity to exchange information.
In recent years, Al Qaeda has become increasingly active in the Sahel, the vast desert region spanning the four countries.
Algeria has already created a regional military post in Tamanrasset to coordinate activities with the armies of Mauritania, Mali and Niger.
The meeting takes place just over a week after the kidnapping of five French and two African uranium workers in northern Niger by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – the north African wing of Osama bin Laden’s network.
“A certain number of measures have been taken by police and the military, to quickly find the victims and the kidnappers without putting the hostages’ lives in danger,” Laouali Dan Dah, a Niger government spokesman, said following the incident.
Two of those abducted were working for the French industrial conglomerate Areva. The five others were employees of the construction firm Satom, a subsidiary of French engineering giant Vinci.
Areva employees working in Niger have been abducted in the past. In 2008, the company announced the release of four of its employees, all French nationals, who had been kidnapped by the Movement for Justice group, which opposes the mining of ancestral lands.
Kidnappings of foreigners has become more frequent in West Africa’s Sahara-Sahel region over the last year, with hostages usually ending up in the hands of groups linked to al Qaeda’s North African wing.
France has said it is at war with the group and pledged further military support to countries in the region after Al Qaeda said in July it had executed aid worker Michel Germaneau, a French citizen it was holding, after a failed French-Mauritanian raid to free him.
He had been abducted three months earlier in Niger.