A jihadist group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a team of workers from the Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Mali. The kidnappers report their captives are “alive and in good health”.
The jihadist group, known as The Movement for the Uniqueness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, announced Tuesday that it had taken the ICRC workers captive.
“We’ve taken a 4x4 (vehicle) that belongs to the enemies of Islam, along with their accomplices,” the head of the movement, Yoro Abdoulsalam, told the AFP news organisation in Bamako. When asked whether he was talking about the ICRC workers, he replied, “yes”.
On Monday, the ICRC reported that it had lost contact with a vehicle carrying its team members.
"We are extremely worried about the fate of our colleagues," Christoph Luedi, head of the ICRC delegation in Mali, said on Monday. "We're doing everything we can to locate them as quickly as possible.”
Those kidnapped are four members of the ICRC team as well as one veterinarian from another humanitarian organisation. All are Malians. They disappeared on February 8 while travelling between the areas of Kidal and Gao in the country’s northeastern region.
"At this stage, we are considering all hypotheses,” said ICRC spokesperson Alexis Heeb. “We are very worried.”
"We are in contact with the Mujao and various (other) armed groups in Mali, but at this stage we cannot confirm the claim made public this morning," Heeb told AFP on Tuesday.
Mali descended into chaos following a military coup in March 2012. The French military intervened last year to stop Islamist rebels from gaining power and, together with soldiers from other African countries, expelled the rebels from the areas they controlled in northern Mali.
However, the security situation remains tense. The UN mission MINUSMA has been posted there to keep the peace and dozens of NGOs and aid organisations are active in the area.
swissinfo.ch and agencies