Islamist cell threatens Spanish hostages

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A radical cell of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which has executed two Western hostages, is threatening the lives of two Spaniards held by another branch, sources told AFP Saturday.

The leader of the cell, Algerian Abdelhamid Abu Zeid "is currently doing everything possible to endanger the lives of the two Spanish hostages," a Malian official involved in negotiating the release of hostages told AFP.

Albert Vilalta, 35, and 50-year-old Roque Pascual were kidnapped in Mauritania eight months ago and were taken to Mali where they are being held by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, alias Belawar. A Spanish woman kidnapped with them, Alicia Gamez, was released in March.

However Abu Zeid is putting pressure on Belmokhtar to refuse to release of the two Spaniards, the official said.

Belmokhtar's motives for kidnapping are mainly financial, according to AQIM experts, and some think he may be using pressure from Abu Zeid as a negotiating tactic.

"But we must take the threat seriously," said the official. "Their situation could quickly worsen."

Abu Zeid's has taken a hard-line since seven militants were killed in a joint Franco-Mauritanian military raid on July 22 on his AQIM who were holding a Frenchman hostage.

Three days later the militants announced they had killed the hostage, Michel Germaneau, 78.

Abu Zeid's cell also executed Briton Edwyn Dyer 14 months ago.

© 2010 AFP

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