Al-Qaeda group releases Swiss hostage in Mali

13th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

A Swiss man has finally been freed in Mali after being held hostage by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for six months.

Bamako – A Swiss man's six-month hostage ordeal in Mali came to an end on Sunday as he returned safely to the capital Bamako after being freed by an Al-Qaeda group that beheaded a Briton in May.

Swiss officials credited Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure with securing Werner Greiner's release and insisted Switzerland had neither negotiated nor paid a ransom for him.

He was freed in Mali's northern desert region of Gao after fierce clashes between government soldiers and Al-Qaeda fighters broke out, Malian officials said.

Greiner, the last Western hostage held by a group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), returned later Sunday to Bamako where he was welcomed by Swiss representatives.

"He will get a medical examination and care. Once his health permits, he will be repatriated to Switzerland to be with his family," foreign ministry spokesman Markus Boerlin told the Swiss newswire ATS in Geneva.

His health was "quite good" given the circumstances, said Boerlin. "But it is clear that he is tired, exhausted."

"The Mali president obtained the liberation. Switzerland neither negotiated with the kidnappers nor paid any ransom," he added.

Greiner was snatched in January along with his wife Gabriella Burco, and fellow tourists Marianne Petzold of Germany and British national Edwin Dyer in Niger, near the border with Mali.

Burco and Petzold were released on 22 April, along with two Canadian diplomats kidnapped in December.

But on 3 June, the Al-Qaeda group announced it had beheaded Dyer because London would not release radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada from a British prison. It was the first time AQIM had killed a Western hostage.

An AFP reporter saw a weary-looking Greiner, dressed in a brown shirt, nod and wave earlier Sunday as he got into a vehicle in a convoy guarded by Malian security forces in the town of Mopti, halfway between Gao and the capital.

Earlier this month an official in northern Mali involved in the talks with the kidnappers had said Greiner was in poor shape.

"He is hardly eating at all. He is suffering a lot," he had told AFP on condition of anonymity. Another negotiator had described him as "in a critical state".

Dozens of people were reported killed in Gao this month in violent clashes between the Malian army and Al-Qaeda fighters.

Following Dyer's execution, Mali stepped up efforts to hunt down the Al-Qaeda militants with President Toure announcing all-out war on the group.

The army said dozens of people were killed on 4 July in the deadliest clashes yet reported in the remote northern region between government troops and Al-Qaeda fighters.

AQIM claimed to have killed 28 soldiers and taken three prisoner in an ambush against an army convoy. The Al-Qaeda group only confirmed one death from among its own ranks, that of a Mauritanian combatant.

AQIM emerged from and includes members of the former Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a radical Islamic movement in Algeria that battled the secular state.

Since 2006, it has sought to enlist extremists in Tunisia and Morocco and extended activities deep into the Sahara and beyond to the Sahel nations of west Africa. The movement seeks close ties to Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda and wants to be considered its north Africa-based armed wing.

An official Malian source said a ceremony to mark Greiner's liberation was scheduled at the presidency in Bamako on Monday.

AFP / Expatica

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