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    African Group with Al-Qaida Ties Says it Kidnapped Italian Couple

    Spokesman for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb says kidnapping was tied to Italy's crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    African Group with Al-Qaida Ties Says it Kidnapped Italian Couple
    African Group with Al-Qaida Ties Says it Kidnapped Italian Couple

    Italy says it will not negotiate with an al-Qaida group that has claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Italians in Mauritania. The North African al-Qaida branch known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said on Sunday that it was behind the recent kidnapping of an Italian couple in Mauritania.

    In an audio message broadcast on al-Arabiya television on Monday, a spokesman for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb said the group is behind this month's kidnapping of an Italian couple in Mauritania. The spokesman said the kidnapping was tied to what he called Italy's crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Italy has 3,150 troops in Afghanistan and 91 troops in Iraq. It announced this month it would send an additional 1,000 troops to Afghanistan in 2010.

    Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Monday that Rome had no direct contact with any representative of the group and did not plan to negotiate with a terrorist organization.

    Frattini said there would be no change in Italy's policy in Afghanistan.

    Italian citizens Sergio Cicala and his wife Philomene Kaboree disappeared in southeast Mauritania on December 18.  Afterward, Mauritanian authorities found the couple's car abandoned and riddled with bullet holes.

    The couple's disappearance followed the abduction of three Spaniards in northern Mauritania in late November, another kidnapping claimed by the same al-Qaida group.

    Mauritanian security forces said last week they had arrested a suspect in the kidnapping.  Sources said the man was from neighboring Mali, where the group has also claimed responsibility for abducting a Frenchman. In addition, they claim to be behind the abduction of three Spanish aid workers in Mauritania last month, and U.S. officials blame the group for the killing of an American teacher in June in the capital city.

    Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is a Sunni organization, which was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. It began as an insurrection against Algeria's secular military rulers after they canceled parliamentary elections in 1992 when it appeared a coalition of Islamist groups might take power.

    It has since expanded and aligned itself with the broader al-Qaida terrorist network, claiming responsibility for suicide bombings in Algeria last year and the kidnapping of two Austrian tourists in Tunisia who were later freed in Mali.

    It is considered a terrorist group by both the U.S. State Department and the European Union. 

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