Over the long weekend I entered into a conversation/debate with a few folks on Twitter, including Andrew Lebovich, Xavier Rauscher, and itsme_leclerc, concerning the pros and cons of ransom payments and armed rescues in Sahelian hostage crises. Feeling constrained by Twitter’s character limit, I started to write up my thoughts on different ways to prevent or resolve the ransoms vs. rescues dilemma. But then I realized it would be good to write a background piece laying out the key kidnapping incidents in the Sahel from 2007 (AQIM’s official birthdate) to the present. With that background in place, I hope to write a piece later in the week going deeper into the key issues.
Here is the chronology of AQIM’s kidnappings, murders, and kidnappings gone wrong, as best I can assemble it. This list only includes incidents in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger, and only incidents involving American and European victims. I have organized the list by dates and outcomes.
Dec. 24, 2007, Mauritania: Four French tourists killed. Outcome: Mauritania sentenced three AQIM members to death.
Feb. 22, 2008, Tunisia: Austrian citizens Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber kidnapped in Tunisia, subsequently moved to Mali. Outcome: AQIM released the Austrians on October 31, 2008. One source alleges that the Austrian government paid a $4 million ransom and that several AQIM members were released.
Dec. 14, 2008, Niger: Canadian diplomats Robert Fowler and Louis Guay kidnapped in Niger. Outcome: AQIM released Fowler and Guay in Mali on April 22, 2010 (along with other hostages, see below), potentially in exchange for AQIM prisoners.
Jan. 22, 2009, Mali: European tourists Edwin Dyer, Marianne Petzold, Gabriella Greitner, and Werner Greiner kidnapped near the Niger border. Outcome: AQIM freed Petzold and Greitner on April 22. AQIM claimed that four militants had been released in exchange. After demanding the release of Abu Qatada, an Al Qaeda member held in Britain, and meeting refusal from the British government, AQIM killed Dyer on May 31. AQIM released Greiner on July 12. Various sources online allege that the Swiss government paid a large ransom for Greiner’s release.
June 23, 2009, Mauritania: American aid worker Christopher Leggett murdered in Nouakchott during an attempted kidnapping attempt (claimed by AQIM). Outcome: Several arrests of AQIM members.
Nov. 14, 2009, Niger: Attempted kidnapping of American Embassy personnel in Tahoua. Outcome: Attempt failed (see Kennedy’s comment below).
Nov. 25, 2009, Mali: French citizen Pierre Camatte kidnapped near the border with Niger. Outcome: Prisoner exchange. After AQIM threatened to kill Camatte, Mali released four AQIM militants around February 20, 2010, and AQIM released Camatte on Feb. 23, 2010.
Nov. 29, 2009, Mauritania: Spanish aid workers Albert Vilalta, Roque Pascual, and Alicia Gamez kidnapped near Nouadhibou. Outcome: AQIM released Gamez on March 10, 2010. Unconfirmed reports indicated that the Spanish government paid a ransom. AQIM released Vilalta and Pascual on Aug. 22, 2010. According to Al Jazeera, “Spain’s daily newspapers El Mundo and ABC both reported… that the release of the aid workers was the result of a payment by the Spanish government which El Mundo put at $4.8m and ABC at between $6.3m and $12.7m. The Spanish government strongly denied that a ransom had been paid following the release of Gamez but has been silent on the reports of ransom payments since then.”
Dec. 18, 2009, Mauritania: Italian citizens Nicola Sergio Cicala and Philomen Kabouree kidnapped. Outcome: AQIM released Cicala and Kabouree on April 16, 2010. Italian officials indicated the release came about because of diplomatic negotiations but did not say whether a ransom was paid.
April 19, 2010, Niger: French citizen Michel Germaneau kidnapped in northern Niger and moved to Mali. Outcome: AQIM threatened to kill Germaneau unless some of its members were released from prison. Following a French and Mauritanian army raid on AQIM members in Mali that reportedly killed six militants, AQIM announced it had killed Germaneau on July 25.
Sept. 16, 2010, Niger: Five French workers kidnapped in northern Niger. Outcome: AQIM still holds the hostages.
Jan. 7, 2011, Niger: French aid worker Antoine De Leocour and French citizen Vincent Delory kidnapped in Niamey. Outcome: After pursuit by Nigerien and French forces and a battle with AQIM, De Leocour and Delory died during the rescue attempt on Jan. 8. The French Foreign Ministry has stated that the two victims were shot with Kalashnikovs (Fr), indicating they were killed by their captors and not by French fire.
Is this the complete list? Let me know if I’ve missed any incidents. If the list proves complete, I will come back to this later in the week and write up some thoughts on what this history signifies. In the meantime, Selected Wisdom has some thoughts on the issue here that are worth your time to read.
– Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.