Islamist rebels in Mali claim execution of kidnapped Algerian diplomat
ALGIERS - The Algerian authorities said on Sunday they were checking reports that one of their diplomats kidnapped in Mali had been executed by his Islamist captors.
A statement attributed to the Movement of Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and posted on Internet sites in Algeria claimed that the diplomat, Tahar Touati, had been executed.
"The execution of the diplomat came after the expiry of an ultimatum given to the Algerian government," said the statement.
"Algerian negotiators refused to agree on a deal to release the hostages at the last minute," it added.
MUJAO kidnapped seven Algerian consular officials in the Malian city of Gao on April 5, and threatened reprisals in an August 24 statement should Algiers fail to free three jihadists it arrested in the south that month.
Among the jihadists was Necib Tayeb, also known as Abderrahmane Abou Ishak Essoufi, a senior member of Al-Qaeda's North Africa branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
MUJAO gave the authorities "less than five days" to act.
Sunday's statement "is currently the focus of the necessary verification to ensure its authenticity," the Algerian foreign ministry said in a statement released by the official APS news agency.
"Contact has not been broken" with the kidnappers, it added.
MUJAO demanded the release of Islamist militants detained in Algeria and a sum of 15 million euros in May in return for freeing the Algerians, but the authorities said the group let three of them go on July 12.
A video MUJAO released on August 26 showed one of the four remaining hostages pleading with the government to save his life.
The wife of one hostage called on MUJAO to free them in a statement published by the Algerian press on Sunday, saying they were only "innocent civil servants," and urged President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to work for their release.