One day before the expiration of the ultimatum, the terrorist group ‘Al Qaeda in the Maghreb released an audio message by Sergio Cicala, the Sicilian abducted with his wife last December, in the desert of Mauritania, on the border with Mali.
The message - a little more than a minute, entitled "Message from the Italian hostage to the Berlusconi’s government" and published with a photo where Cicala is kneeling and unshaved in front of six Islamists with bandaged faces and weapons in hands - was tracked by SITE, the U.S. agency for monitoring Islamist websites, according to which the message was recorded on February 24.
In the message, the Sicilian identifies himself and addressing to the President of the Republic and to the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said: “...since December 18, I am prisoner of the Al Qaeda fighters. My wife’s freedom and mine depends on the concessions that the governament is willing to do. I hope that the government will soon be interested in our situation and consequently of our lives. Confidently we expect that it can be over as soon as possible in the best way, of course with our release”.
The terrorist group’s statement hasn’t any news of the three Spanish co-operators - Alicia Gamez, Roque Pascual, Albert Vilalta - kidnapped last November with the French man Pierre Camatta, who was freed on 23 February in exchange of the release of four terrorists.
Returning to France after three months of captivity, Pierre Camatta described his captors as “fanatics composed mostly by young people, whom believe to have the absolute truth, whom read the Koran all the time”, people who have the “target to Islamise the world”. According to Camatta, the group tried several times to convert him to Islam.
Cicala, 65 year old, comes from Carini, a village in the province of Palermo, in the north-west side of Sicily, Italy. Him and his wife - Philomene Pwelgna Kaborè, 39 years old, originally from Burkina Faso – have been kidnap on December 17, 2009 during a touristic trip on the desert between Mauritania and Mali, in the north-west side of Africa.
In the aftermath of the kidnapping, Cicala’s daughter, Alexia, appealed to the Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, to enter into urgent contacts with the kidnappers to know the health conditions of the two hostages and begin negotiations.
Sergio Cicala and 6 of his kidnappers
In an audio-message on the 27th of December Salah Abu Mohammed, who introduced himself as the Al Quaeda person in charge with the media in the part of the Islamic Maghreb, explained that the kidnap is a response to the crime perpetrated by Italian government in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On February 6, ‘Al Qaeda for Maghrib’ gave to the Italian government an ultimatum of "25 days from the issuance of the message" - then by the end of the first March - to fulfill the requests made in exchange for the release of the couple.
The compensation should be the release of a group of Islamist fighters who are actually prisoners and "whose names – was specified - have already been given to the Italian negotiator”. Although no names have been made public, the prisoners that should be freed in exchange for the Italian couple is an unspecified number of Islamist fighters actually prisoners in jails of Mauritania.
The Mauritanian government fears that the soft hand sought by Rome with the release of Islamists may cause the strengthening of the terrorist group. In addition, the Algerian government calls not only for the iron fist with the terrorists but also for the extradition of those AQMI’s fighters and terrorist who are Algerian citizens.
In an interview appeared on the Spanish daily newspaper ‘El Pais’, the president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré, advised the families of the Europeans kidnapped to be optimistic and don’t lose the hope “because – he said - we are working with discretion and effectiveness”. However, the Chief of the African country had ruled out the military intervention of his army against Al Qaida’s bases in Mali, as was requested by the European countries.
‘Al-Qaeda for the Maghreb’ (AQMI) - or ‘Al Jihad fi Bilad Al Maghrib al Arabi’ - is the North-African arm of Al Qaeda and it was born in January 2007 by the transformation of the Algerian 'Salafist group for Preaching and Combat' (SGPC) whom was born in turn in 1998 to improve the image of the ‘Armed Islamic Group’ (AIG) that in the ‘90 was guilty of many heinous massacres against the Algerian people.
Today AQMI is led by Abdelmalek Deroukdal, alias Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud. The first claim of the group dates back to February 13 2007, during a series of bombings attacks in the Algerian Berber region of Kabylia, between the capital Algiers and the city of Bejaia, on the coast.
Between 2007 and 2008 the terrorist group has bloodied the country with a huge number of suicide attacks, mainly made in the heart of the capital against police stations, the UN headquarter and the Constitutional Court building.
In 2009 the number of attacks has fallen significantly, but continued kidnapping westerners citizens. In June 2009 the group remains faithful to its threats and killed the British tourist Edwin Dyer, held hostage for six months.