Algeria: Neighbors Cooperating on Kidnap Probe

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- Algeria and neighboring nations are cooperating in multiple investigations aimed at freeing three European aid workers believed kidnapped by Al Qaeda militants, Algeria's foreign minister said Tuesday.

An Italian and two Spanish aid workers were abducted from a refugee camp on Oct. 22 in the deep south of the country. A Malian lawmaker said Monday that the captives are now believed to be in Mali.

There has been no claim of responsibility, but Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, has often kidnapped foreigners as a way to raise ransom money. AQIM is an offshoot of the terror network that is active in North Africa, including the desert border areas of Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania.

"For now, the investigations are being pursued on different levels, on the level of the services inside our country but also in the neighboring countries that equally want to find the road that will lead us to these people," Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said.

The aid workers were working in the refugee camps of the Western Sahara independence movement, known as the Polisario, which seeks an independent state in an area now controlled by Morocco.

Morocco has long hinted that there might be cooperation between members of the Polisario and Al Qaeda and there have been reports that Saharan guides helped Al Qaeda in its attack. But a Polisario official denied the reports.
"There is no Al Qaeda in the refugee camps of the Saharans, and the terrorists who attacked opened fire to cover their escape," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.