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Algeria tourist kidnapping called an error

February 8, 2011

UPI, 7 Feb 2011: An Italian tourist kidnapped in Algeria last week was not the al-Qaida terrorists’ intended prey, her tour operator said Monday.

Maria Sandra Mariani, 53, was seized at Alidena in southern Algeria Wednesday and is believed to have been taken across the border into Niger by a gang linked to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The kidnappers “weren’t looking for her but for a group of tourists they had been informed about,” Ahmed Kherrani told ANSA. He said he had been arranging her monthlong winter stays at the Sahara oasis for five years.

“When the kidnappers came to the camp at Alidena, they asked about a group of tourists,” he said. The woman’s guides tried to hide her whereabouts, but the bandits found her.

AQIM has staged several kidnappings of Europeans in Mali, Mauritania and Niger in recent years but has so far not issued any terms for Mariani’s release.

The kidnapping is the first of tourists in Algeria since 2003.

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