An Algerian group linked to the Islamic State has threatened to kill a French hostage within 24 hours unless Paris halts air strikes on IS in Iraq, in a video posted this week.
Jund al-Khilifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate), which has pledged allegiance to IS, said in the video that it carried out the kidnapping of the Frenchman in a mountainous region of eastern Algeria where Al-Qaeda is active.
The hostage, Hervé Pierre Gourdel, white-haired and bespectacled, is shown squatting on the ground flanked by two hooded men clutching Kalashnikov assault rifles, as he asks for French President Francois Hollande to intervene.
“It is up to Hollande, president of the criminal French state, to halt the attacks on the Islamic State within 24 hours of this statement, otherwise his national Hervé Gourdel will have his throat slit,” one of his kidnappers says in the video.
France mounted its first airstrike to beat back the IS in Iraq last week, joining an aerial assault which the United States launched on August 8.
Gourdel says he is a native of Nice in southern France who works as a mountain guide, and that he only arrived in Algeria on Saturday. He was seized while hiking with Algerian friends.
In the video, the kidnappers say they are responding to a call from IS (PDF), posted just hours earlier, for Muslims to kill citizens of countries taking part in the US-led coalition against the jihadists who have seized of large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European, especially the spiteful and filthy French, or an Australian, or a Canadian or any other disbeliever… including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him,” said IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani.
“Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military,” he said in the message, which was released in multiple languages.
According to the Algerian Interior Ministry, the Frenchman and two Algerian companions were driving through the mountains near the village of Ait Ouabane when they were stopped by a group of armed men Sunday evening.
The gunmen released the Algerians and took the Frenchman, whom the ministry described as a 55-year-old mountain guide. The three had spent the night at a ski lodge near the town of Tikdjda, 110 kilometers (65 miles) from the capital, Algiers.
The area is now being combed by army and elements of the local guard.
The French foreign ministry confirmed a national had been kidnapped. “Everything is being done to find our fellow countryman. Authorities are mobilised and no hypothesis is being discarded,” the ministry said.
French President Francois Hollande spoke with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal by phone, the French leader’s office said in a statement, emphasizing the “total cooperation” between France and Algeria to try to find and free the Frenchman. It said authorities in the two countries were in constant contact.
09/23/2014 UPDATE #1
President Francois Hollande vowed Tuesday not to give in to jihadists who have threatened to kill a French hostage in Algeria, as troops raced against time to find him.
“As grave as this situation is, we will not give into any blackmail, any pressure, any ultimatum, no matter how odious, how despicable,” Hollande said in New York, where he is due to attend the annual UN General Assembly.
Paris — which has denied accusations it pays ransoms — refused to be cowed by the threat against Gourdel, and Hollande insisted the country would press on with air strikes alongside the United States.
Earlier Tuesday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls had warned that if Paris gave in, it would “be handing them victory”.
Jund al-Khilifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate) has vowed to kill the hostage by Tuesday night if Paris did not stop air strikes in Iraq.
Algerian military planes were combing the mountainous eastern Tizi Ouzou region backing elite anti-terrorist units on the ground in a desperate bid to find 55-year-old Herve Gourdel, a security source said.
As the deadline loomed, some 20 truckloads of paratroopers also joined the search, a witness said, and police set up roadblocks along the highway that snakes through the mountains.
09/23/2014 UPDATE #2
Three men who accompanied the kidnapped French national in Algeria were arrested while a terrorist involved in the operation was identified, according to security sources.
The arrested men were a tourist guide, a driver and another person. They are accused of helping the kidnappers as the guide lives in the area and is aware of terror strongholds.
They told investigators they have nothing to do with the kidnappers, but security forces say they found evidence showing their involvement.
One of the kidnappers in the video with Gourdel has also been identified. His name is Smail Ould Djeli aka Abu Hayane, 34. He comes from Mauritania and joined al-Qaeda in Algeria in 2006.