Car used by kidnappers of Frenchmen in Mali 'found'

27th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A car said to belong to the kidnappers who abducted two Frenchmen from a hotel in the Malian town of Hombori has been found in northern Mali, a local security source said Sunday.

"One of the vehicles of the kidnappers of the two Frenchmen has been found and we have send men to the zone," said the Malian source, who did not say where exactly the car was found.

Locals had spotted the vehicle, which has "foreign number plates", the source added.

The two Frenchmen, described as an engineer and a geologist, were abducted early Thursday from their hotel.

According to a separate source in the northern town of Gao, the kidnappers have split into two groups in an attempt to throw French and Malian soldiers who were hunting for the pair in the region between Hombori and the Burkina Faso border to the south off the scent.

One group is believed to be heading towards the Burkina Faso border but the other is thought to be moving north towards Mali's border with Algeria.

A day after the kidnapping of the Frenchmen, four Europeans were abducted from the ancient city of Timbuktu, some 240 kilometres (150 miles) to the north.

An armed gang snatched a Swede, a Dutchman and a man with dual British-South African nationality from a restaurant in the city's central square and killed a German with them who tried to resist, officials said.

Authorities on Saturday evacuated the last 20-odd tourists from Timbuktu.

They were flown by government-chartered aircraft to Mopti, south of Timbuktu, and to the capital Bamako.

Mali's government described the spate of kidnappings as "an attack on the country's security and stability", which "reaffirms (our) determination and unfailing commitment to any action needed to guarantee peace, security and stability".

Although there has been no immediate claim of responsibility, the incidents are the latest in a series of abductions of foreigners believed to be the work of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

AQIM has bases in the northern Mali desert from which it organises raids and kidnappings and traffics weapons and drugs.

It also operates in Niger, Mauritania and Algeria.

Friday's incident brought the total number of foreigners held in the vast Sahel region to nine and dealt another massive blow to Mali's struggling economy.

Tourism in Timbuktu, an oasis known as "The Pearl of the Desert" and a World Heritage site renowned for its ancient Islamic architecture, was suffering as foreign governments warned their citizens not to visit the region.

The two French captives, named in documents seen by AFP as Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, had arrived in Hombori on Tuesday night, apparently on a mission to take soil samples for the company Mande Construction Immobiliere, which plans to build a cement factory in the region.

Police said five people had been arrested, including the Frenchmen's guide, named as Ibrahim Ould Bah.

Acquaintances told AFP that Verdon had links to French mercenary Bob Denard, while Lazarevic was an ex-military man who got involved in private security.

The kidnappings were the first in this region south of the vast Malian desert and close to Dogon territory, which is also popular with tourists because of the famed masks, architecture and dances of the Dogon people.

French authorities had previously classified northern Mali as a "red zone", a recommendation that travel there be avoided. On Saturday, the French foreign ministry enlarged the area to include Hombori.

The capital Bamako and the rest of the country is designated an "orange zone", meaning travel there is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.

The Netherlands also issued a travel warning Saturday for its citizens to avoid northern Mali.

AQIM is holding four French nationals abducted in Niger in September 2010.

The four were among seven people kidnapped at Arlit, the main uranium mining town in Niger. They included an executive of the French nuclear giant Areva and his wife, both French, with five employees of an Areva sub-contractor, identified as three French men, a Togolese and a Madagascan.

The French woman and the two African men were freed on February 24, but the others are still being held.

© 2011 AFP

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