Kidnapped Italian woman says being held by al Qaeda

The hostage, Maria Sandra Mariani, was snatched on February 02 in Algeria.

Updated: Feb 18, 2011, 11:20 AM IST

Dubai: An Italian woman snatched early this month in Algeria said she was being held by the North African branch of al Qaeda, in an audiotape aired by the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television early Friday.

"I am Italian and I was kidnapped on Wednesday, February 02, in Algeria. I am still being held by the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Tarek ibn Zyad battalion. I am asking Al-Arabiya to air this statement," the hostage, identified as Maria Sandra Mariani, said in halting French.

The tape started with a man speaking in Arabic and claiming that the al Qaeda offshoot was holding her, adding that "we want her to be able to communicate with the leader of her country”.

The 53-year-old woman was abducted in Alidena, an area about 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of Djanet, the main town in southeastern Algeria.

Three Algerians -- a driver, a security guard and a guide -- who accompanied her were freed following the abduction.

Djanet, 2,300 kilometres south of Algiers near the border with Libya, is an oasis mainly inhabited by Tuareg tribespeople.

The North African branch of al Qaeda operates in a vast desert area across Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, where it carries out attacks, trafficking and kidnapping of westerners.

Bureau Report