DAKAR, Senegal – Chad rebels holding the Sahara's most-wanted terror suspect said Thursday that Libya had threatened to bomb them if they didn't meet a 48-hour deadline to surrender the suspect.
There was no immediate comment from Libya, which had confirmed to The Associated Press earlier this week that its forces had killed two of terror suspect Amara Saifi's (search) accomplices.
Saifi, the only known surviving leader of Algeria's Al Qaeda allied Salafist Group for Call and Combat (search), has been claimed in the hands of Chad rebels since they came across him and several followers in the Sahara earlier this year.
Months of negotiations have failed to obtain his surrender to Algeria, other African nations or the West.
On Thursday, Chad rebels in the remote northern mountains of Chad received a satellite phone call from two Libyan officials giving them a 48-hour deadline to surrender Saifi, Brahim Tchouma, a spokesman in exile told The Associated Press.
"At the end of 48 hours, they're going to bomb us in a way we've never been bombed," Tchouma quoted the two Libyans as telling the rebels.
Libyans also insisted on being given sole custody of Saifi, Tchouma said.
"Why don't they want him to go free to the West? That's the question we should ask," the rebel spokesman said.
Saifi is wanted in the killings of 42 Algerian soldiers and the kidnapping of 32 European tourists, both last year.
Germany has an international arrest warrant out for him in the kidnappings, which saw one captive German woman die of apparent heatstroke. The rest were freed unharmed.
Algerian forces killed the Salafist's top leader and several of his lieutenants late last month.
West African forces, supported by the United States and France, earlier this year chased Saifi and dozens of his followers across the Sahara. The chase ended when the Chad rebels announced they had captured them.
Western diplomats and others say they believe rebels are holding Saifi, but can know for sure only when and if he is turned in. Diplomats and others have accused the Chad rebels of shopping the terror suspect from country to country in search of financial rewards.
Tchouma said Libya had recently entered into negotiations for Saifi's surrender, at what the rebel's said was Germany's request.
Tchouma told the AP on Monday that rebels had turned two of Saifi's captured accomplices over to Libyan agents as a show of good faith. Libya's Foreign Ministry told the AP the next day that it had killed two Salafists but claimed they were shot as they tried to enter Libya.
There was no confirmation the two were the same, but the announcement angered the rebels, who accused Libya and Algeria of killing the two to silence them.
Thursday's alleged call from the Libyans came from a Mahdi Goukouni, Tchouma said, adding that Goukouni was the same person to whom the rebels had surrendered the two accomplices and a Col. Chaibane.