Italian couple disappeared in southern Mauritania on December 18
An al-Qaida offshoot group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Italians in Mauritania.
In an audio message broadcast on al-Arabiya television Monday, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb says it kidnapped the man and woman because of what it called Italy's crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The couple, Sergio Cicala and his wife Philomene Kabore, disappeared in southeast Mauritania December 18.
Mauritanian security forces said last week they had arrested a suspect in the kidnapping. The sources said the man was from neighboring Mali.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has also claimed responsibility for abducting a Frenchman in Mali and three Spaniards in Mauritania last month.
The group is a Sunni Muslim organization formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. It began as an insurrection against Algeria's military rulers after they cancelled parliamentary elections in 1992.
The United States has warned the terrorist group poses a threat to Westerners across Africa's Sahel region. U.S. officials blame the group for the fatal shooting of an American in Mauritania earlier this year, and for other killings and kidnappings.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.