An al-Qaeda-linked group in Mali has kidnapped a team of Red Cross workers who had been reported missing, an official from the group known as the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said.
The members of the team “are alive and in good health” in the hands of MUJAO, the official told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.
“Thanks to God we seized a 4X4 [vehicle] of the enemies of Islam with their accomplices,” Yoro Abdoulsalam said, confirming it was the Red Cross team reported missing in recent days.
He gave no other details.
MUJAO is one of the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups which occupied the north of Mali in 2012 before it was partly driven from the region by a French-led military intervention in January last year.
Alexis Heeb, a spokesman for the the Red Cross, told AFP on Monday that four of the organisation’s employees and a veterinarian from another aid group went missing on Saturday on the road between the towns of Kidal and Gao.
All five are Malian citizens.
Mali descended into chaos when Tuareg rebels and al-Qaeda groups took over the north after a military coup in March 2012 far to the south in the capital Bamako.
The humanitarian crisis sparked by the conflict came on top of years of drought in the Sahel region that has left 800,000 Malians relying on food aid.
The rebels advanced on Bamako, leading to a military intervention by former colonial power France in January 2013.
French troops pushed the al-Qaeda-linked fighters out of northern towns early last year and have kept up operations against residual groups.
France is winding down its force from a peak of about 5,000 soldiers but is to keep 1,000 troops in Mali beyond the spring.
The UN took over security in July last year from a pan-African military mission which had been supporting the French troops.
The UN mission played a key security role in presidential polls last year, in which the former prime minister, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was elected.