BAMAKO – Bamako will "no longer accept the violation of its territorial integrity by the Polisario Front", a Malian Minister said on condition of anonymity.
“Our country is not the Wild West where they can come to kill, and kidnap people and we have already made it clear.” Next time, we will take up our responsibilities," the Minister said.
For him, the "reasons for this intrusion do not hold water. The person who was killed and those who were taken hostage have nothing to do with the kidnappers of European hostages taken in Tindouf", West of Algeria.
Armed men from the Polisario Front -- a group seeking the secession of Western Sahara from Morocco -- killed a man and abducted three others in northern Mali, local officials said Thursday.
A Malian security official said that the man was killed "in a vendetta on Malian territory by Polisario forces," identifying the victim as Mohamed Yeyia Ould Hamed, aka 'Double Head'.
The official said Polisario was claiming to exercise its right of pursuit to catch gunmen linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). But the official argued the killing was in fact the result of a vendetta between rival smugglers.
The incident took place in El Hank, in the district of Timbuktu, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) from the Algerian border, the official added without saying when it happened.
Mohamed Ould Taher, a local elected official, said one of the abductees was his nephew, who had no links with AQIM.
"I am the uncle of Tahar Ould El Himry, one of those kidnapped by the Polisario forces," he said. "My nephew has nothing to do with Al Qaeda. They are just settling accounts.
"Everybody here knows who AQIM's accomplices are, they even assisted in the abduction of the Europeans in Tindouf," he said, referring to the October 23 kidnapping of two Spaniards and an Italian in a camp in Algeria which hosts refugees from Western Sahara.
Ould Taher then pointed to Omar Sid Ahmed Ould Hamma, a Malian salafist with known ties to AQIM, saying: "His name is Omar al Sahraoui but neither Mali, nor Algeria, nor the Polisario are doing anything to capture him and we don't understand why."
In July 2010, Omar al Sahraoui was sentenced to 12 years of forced labour in Mauritania over the kidnapping of Spanish humanitarian workers.
According to the Mauritanian judiciary, the militant had acted as a mercenary for Al Qaeda's local franchise, whose ambit straddles Mali, Niger, Algeria and Mauritania.
He was subsequently extradited to Mali and freed shortly before the release in August that year of two of the Spanish hostages, personally escorting them to freedom, through the desert and all the way to the border with Burkina Faso.
Several regional security officials believe Omar al Sahraoui is behind the October kidnapping in Tindouf, which was claimed in a statement sent by an AQIM splinter calling itself Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.