Hmm, that was yesterday…Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi says the two hostages to be freed soon
TRIPOLI (Reuters) – An organisation led by a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi denied on Sunday that it was negotiating the release of two Austrians believed held by al Qaeda in north Africa.
The Gaddafi Foundation charity was responding to a report by Carinthia governor Joerg Haider on Saturday that its chairman Saif al-Islam was in touch with the kidnappers in Mali to try to obtain the release of the hostages.
“Gaddafi Foundation affirms that it has not undertaken any measures or efforts or contacts, whether direct or indirect, with the kidnappers despite the Foundation, and its chairman, having received several demands to do so.”
However on Sunday the Austrian news agency APA quoted Haider as saying in response to the foundation’s denial: “It is not an initiative of the foundation but his (Saif al-Islam’s) own … it is a secret action.”
The reported role of Gaddafi’s son, who has studied in Austria and is a friend of right-wing populist Haider, raised some hopes for the release of the two Austrian tourists who were seized in Tunisia last month and are reported to be held in northern Mali.
The Algerian-based al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said it seized the two on February 22 and has demanded a ransom and the liberation of 10 militants held in Algeria and Tunisia. It has set a deadline of midnight on Sunday for its demands to be met.
Haider’s spokesman said on Saturday that “negotiations in Mali have reached a decisive phase and … in the next few hours there could be a decision in this matter … a release.”
Saif al-Islam was involved in negotiations last year to free six foreign medics sentenced to death for infecting Libyan children with HIV.
Austria has launched an intense diplomatic campaign to try to obtain the release of Andrea Kloiber, 43, and Wolfgang Ebner, 51, sending a diplomatic envoy to the Malian capital Bamako and seeking the help of regional states like Libya.
The Austrian envoy in Bamako, Anton Prohaska, said on Saturday he remained hopeful the two would be freed unharmed.
Mali’s government has been trying to help Austria obtain the release of the two tourists. Local military sources believe they are being held at a Saharan Islamist hideout in Mali’s remote northeast region of Kidal that borders with Algeria and Niger.
Al Qaeda has warned that any attempt to launch a military operation to free the captives could result in their death.
Profile: Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam
The eccentric Libyan leader’s son, Saif al-Islam, has emerged as the key broker in Tripoli’s detente with the West, report Alastair Jamieson and Colin Freeman.