Algiers – Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb planned and carried out the kidnapping of three European aid workers - including two Spaniards - from Saharawi refugee camps in western Algeria, the foreign minister of the partially recognized Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, or SADR, told Efe Wednesday.
"All evidence gathered so far shows that Al Qaeda was behind the kidnappings of the two Spaniards and the Italian woman," Mohamed Salem Uld Salek said.
Spaniards Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon and Enric Gonyalons and Italian Rosella Urru were kidnapped by a group of armed men Saturday night from the facility in Rabouni - near the Algerian town of Tindouf - where foreign aid workers are lodged.
The Saharawi government had previously said the perpetrators of the kidnappings were "terrorists" who had arrived from Mali and fled back to that country through Mauritania after the crime, but without identifying the group involved.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb has not claimed responsibility for the abductions.
The foreign minister also said search operations "in coordination with neighboring countries" were continuing in an effort to locate the kidnappers and their hostages.
The Algerian military on Monday killed four individuals dressed in Afghan clothing who have not yet been identified but are suspected accomplices of the kidnappers, Arabic daily El Khabar reported Wednesday.
After the abductions, Algerian army units spotted two all-terrain vehicles that were traveling en route to Mali.
The vehicles were destroyed and their four occupants were killed. The Algerian soldiers confiscated high-powered weapons and night-vision gear, the paper added.
According to the daily, the four slain individuals were responsible for securing the escape route for the kidnappers.
The foreign minister had told Efe Monday that the group that planned and executed the kidnappings, which are the first to occur in the refugee camps, had "a double objective."
"The first, obviously, is to demand ransom. The second is more political, they want to make it seem that the camps in Tindouf are unsafe to scare donors and those in charge of humanitarian assistance," the Saharawi official said.
About 2,300 Spanish aid workers are abroad and "nearly all of them work in difficult situations, in conflict zones," Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said earlier this week, noting that aid workers "are aware" of the risks they take.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has carried out a number of kidnappings in southern Algeria, Mali and Mauritania, but it has never abducted anyone in the Saharawi refugee camps controlled by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.
The SADR is the name given the Western Sahara by the Polisario Front, which launched a war for independence against Morocco in 1975 after the North African kingdom annexed the territory on the withdrawal of Spanish forces.
The native Saharawis, led by the Polisario Front, have spent decades resisting Morocco's annexation of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.