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Hostage video: Europeans kidnapped in Nigeria blame Al Qaeda

In a video of two European engineers who were kidnapped in Nigeria, the hostages say their kidnappers are from Al Qaeda, but their home governments have doubts.

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Several possibilities occur to me:

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  1. Al Qaeda (presumably as AQIM) indeed kidnapped the men. This would be a big deal – the first known incursion of AQIM into Nigerian territory would attract major attention and would compound the Nigerian state’s security headaches. With the Boko Haram uprising in the Northeast, increasing insecurity in the Northwest border areas could scare investors as well as the local population. Pressure on the Federal Government to beef up security would increase accordingly.
  2. A local group kidnapped the men and then sold or transferred them to AQIM. This would still point to AQIM involvement in Northern Nigeria, but would not signal a direct AQIM presence in Nigerian territory as such. The kidnappers could be opportunists.
  3. The kidnappers are posing as AQIM, perhaps in order to increase the eventual ransom payment. If the claims of AQIM involvement turned out to be false, Nigeria would breathe a sigh of relief. On the other hand, it’s hard to put the genie – even just of rumors – back in the bottle. Going forward, commentators are going to be speculating much more an AQIM presence in Nigeria.

Have I missed something? What do you think the implications are?

As we wait for more information on this, I hope above all that the two men are safe and that they will be released soon. I will update if there is anything new.

[Update]: In the comments, Andrew Lebovich makes a great point about how the video was released:

I think what’s telling about the claim is that it did not come from al-Andalus. Given the way AQIM produces videos (and the way they have done so in the past) with hostages, it seems unlikely that they would stake a claim as “al-Qaeda” without any of the official trappings. In the absence of further information or confirmation, of course, we can’t judge. But my hunch is that this is your third option, people posing in order to up an eventual ransom demand.

Al-Andalus is, for those who don’t know, the media house of AQIM. Reinforcing Andrew’s point – and, on another note, perhaps also indicating that the hostages are being held outside of Nigeria – is the fact that the video was sent to the AFP in Cote d’Ivoire rather than to, say, a jihadi website or to BBC Hausa or to another Nigerian outlet. But as Andrew also says, we will need more information before we can be sure of anything.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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