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Italian woman abducted in Sahara

An Italian woman tourist travelling with a driver and a tour guide has been kidnapped in the Sahara desert region of southern Algeria, security sources said Friday.

The 56-year-old Italian who has not been identified was abducted Wednesday around 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) in Alidena, an area around 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of Djanet, the main town in southeastern Algeria, a security official in the region contacted by AFP said.

The driver and guide who accompanied her were freed following the abduction and told investigators they had been kidnapped by “14 men riding in two Toyota trucks”.

The army, which controls the desert region of Alidena, has been put on alert and is searching for the vehicles but the abductors have probably already left the country, the sources said.

The Ech-Chorouk newspaper said Friday the woman, who was on a month-long vacation in the region, had probably been taken by her abductors to neighbouring Niger.

The newspaper said a local travel agency had told security services about the kidnapping in an area where an offshoot of the Al-Qaeda network is known to operate, targeting foreign visitors over the past several years.

Algeria’s APS news agency said the kidnappers had allowed the woman to use their satellite telephone to inform the travel agent in Djanet what had happened.

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

The Italian foreign ministry in Rome said it was trying to confirm the reports.

In 2003, between February and mid-March, 32 European tourists belonging to several different groups were abducted in the Algerian Sahara which covers an area of around two million square kilometres (770,000 square miles).

Many were held for months and the last captive was released in Mali in August of that year.

Humanitarian and government sources in Mali said Thursday that Spain had arranged the emergency evacuation of two of its citizens in the north of the country Mali seen at risk of being kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI).

The date of the evacuation was not specified, nor the current location of the Spanish aid workers.

Three Spanish aid workers were abducted in November 2009 by AQMI in Mauritania and later transferred to Mali. A female hostage was released in March and the other two in August.

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.

On January 7, AQMI members kidnapped two young Frenchmen from a restaurant in Niamey, the Niger capital. They died the following day near the border with Mail as troops from Niger and France tried to rescue them.

The group still holds five French hostages, a Togolese and a Madagascan, abducted last September from a uranium mine in northern Niger.