The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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December 21, 2009

December 21, 2009 - The Daily Star - Italy Confirms Abducted Couple in Mauritania

Italy confirms couple abducted in Mauritania

Al-Qaeda link suspected after car found riddled with bullets, driver missing

ROME/NOUAKCHOTT: Italy’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that an Italian couple have been abducted in Mauritania and said it had activated all political and diplomatic channels to secure their release. In a short statement Saturday, the ministry asked for media discretion “to guarantee the safety of the hostages and favor a positive solution to the case.”

Italian media named the two as 65-year-old Sergio Cicala and his 39-year-old wife Philomene Kabouree, who is from Burkina Faso and has dual Italian nationality.

Their bullet-riddled vehicle was found in eastern Mauritania near the border with Mali in an area where armed groups with links to Al-Qaeda are known to operate, diplomats said on Saturday. The couple’s driver, from Ivory Coast, was also missing, a local journalist said.

Cicala’s daughter Alexia made an emotional appeal on Italian television, urging Foreign Minister Franco Frattini to quickly establish contact with the kidnappers.

“I want to know what is my father’s condition, I have had no news since Wednesday,” she told Sky Italia. She said the couple, who live in Sicily, was travelling to Burkina Faso to visit Kabouree’s 12-year-old son.

Local diplomats said the attack seemed to be the latest in a string of kidnappings in the border region.

Malian security forces have been put on high alert by their Mauritanian counterparts, who warned that the gunmen may try to smuggle their hostages across the border, Malian government officials said.

Armed groups, some of them believed to have links to Al-Qaeda’s wing in the region, operate across the vast, remote desert zone, which includes eastern Mauritania, northern Mali and southern Algeria.

Analysts say local gangs, generally involved in smuggling cigarettes, weapons, drugs and people, could also become involved in kidnapping foreigners and selling them on to Al-Qaeda.

Although never officially confirmed, experts say ransoms are often paid, but a British hostage was executed in Mali by the group earlier this year.

Several local journalists said residents near Kobenni, a town 8 kilometers from the border with Mali, heard gunfire on Friday evening close to where the couple’s vehicle was found.

Isselmou Ould Mustafa, a journalist who specializes in security matters for Tahalil, a Mauritanian weekly newspaper, said the nature of the attack pointed to a kidnapping.

“They were taken by armed men … this bears all the marks of Al-Qaeda as the kidnapping, once again, took place at night and the Al-Qaeda bases are just a few kilometers, as the bird flies, from where the seizure took place,” he added.

Three Spanish aid workers disappeared in Mauritania last month after an attack on their convoy. Malian security sources believe the trio is being held by Al-Qaeda’s north African wing in Malian territory. – Reuters

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