Mali Islamists confirm execution of Algerian diplomat
Islamic extremists occupying northern Mali said Sunday they have executed an Algerian diplomat kidnapped five months ago, after an ultimatum given to his government to fulfill their demands expired.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said Algerian vice-consul Tahar Touati was executed on Saturday morning, and threatened the three other hostages still in their hands if Algiers does not comply with their demands.
"We have carried out our threat. The hostage has been killed," Walid Abu Sarhaoui, president of the MUJAO council, said.
"Algeria had the time to move negotiations along but did not want to. We executed the hostage on Saturday."
He said an Algerian soldier had delivered the government's "definitive" response on Saturday, indicating that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had rejected an agreement with MUJAO.
"The life of the other hostages will soon be in danger if Algeria doesn't listen to us," said Sahraoui.
MUJAO had on August 24 given an ultimatum to Algeria, threatening to kill the hostage after Algiers rejected its demands for the release of three jihadists arrested in the south of the country.
Algerian authorities have said they are verifying the reports of the diplomat's execution which was first reported in a statement from MUJAO posted on internet sites in Algeria and Mauritania.
"The Algerian government must take complete responsibility for the consequences of its stubbornness and the misguided and irresponsible decisions of its president and its generals," read the communique.
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, an armed jihadist group, first surfaced in December 2011, presenting itself as a splinter group of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The group, along with Tuareg rebels and Islamist fighters from Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) seized two-thirds of Mali's territory in the wake of a military coup in Bamako on March 22.
They have since sidelined their Tuareg allies and enforced strict Islamic law, whipping and stoning transgressors and in the case of Ansar Dine, destroying ancient world heritage sites in the fabled city of Timbuktu.
MUJAO claimed the April 5 kidnapping of seven Algerian diplomats from a consulate in the town of Gao, one of the main northern cities which has fallen into the extremists' hands.
In May they demanded the release of Islamist militants detained in Algeria and a sum of 15 million euros in return for freeing the Algerians.
Three of the hostages were freed on July 12.
A video MUJAO released on August 26 showed Touati pleading with the government to save his life.
"I ask Algerian authorities to find a solution to save my life," he said in Arabic, reading from a text.
The alleged execution comes as a team from the International Criminal Court is in Mali to investigate whether the Islamic extremists have committed war crimes.
The extremists are accused of summary executions of Malian soldiers, rapes, massacres of civilians, the enlistment of child soldiers and torture as well as the destruction of state buildings, churches, mosques and mausoleums.