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AL QAEDA

Swiss woman kidnapped in Timbuktu: confirmed

Switzerland on Monday confirmed that a female national had been kidnapped in Mali's Timbuktu, the fabled city seized by Islamists after a coup in the west African nation.

A statement by the federal department of foreign affairs (FDFA) in Bern said that authorities were in contact with the woman’s family and “were making every effort to ensure the kidnap victim is released unharmed,” but did not identify her.

Local reports said she was a Christian woman in her 40s named Beatrice who had lived in the ancient city for years and was active in the local community.

Officials at the Swiss government’s Agency for Cooperation and Development office in Bamako and at the Swiss embassy in Dakar, which is also responsible for Mali, are in touch with local authorities, the FDFA said.

The government said it had advised its nationals to leave the country temporarily following the March 22nd coup and had been advising against travelling to Mali since December 2009 because of a higher risk of kidnappings.

“Because of the deteriorating security situation following the military coup and the advance of the rebels in the north of the country, since March 30th the FDFA has advised the Swiss nationals living in Mali to leave the country temporarily,” it said.

Impoverished Mali was plunged into crisis when a group of low-ranking army officers launched a coup that toppled president Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22nd, saying the government had not done enough to stem a rebellion that Tuareg rebels rekindled in the north in January.

The Tuaregs and their Islamist allies took advantage of the power vaccum in the wake of the coup to sweep across the desert north of the vast country, seizing an area roughly the size of France in days.

The Ansar Dine Islamist movement, with the help of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), then took control of Timbuktu on April 1st.

AQIM, which has bases in the north of Mali, operates in several countries in the region. It has abducted a number of Europeans in the past.

HOSTAGE

Swiss hostage ‘killed by jihadis in Mali’: ministry

A Swiss woman being held hostage in Mali "was apparently killed by kidnappers... about a month ago", Bern's foreign ministry said in a statement Friday.

Swiss hostage 'killed by jihadis in Mali': ministry
The information was provided by Sophie Petronin (above), who returned to France on Friday after four years in captivity. Photo: Stringer/AFP
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of our fellow citizen,” foreign affairs chief Ignazio Cassis said, adding that “I condemn this cruel act and express my deepest sympathy to the relatives”.
   
Switzerland did not release the name of the hostage who had been killed, but said they had been held by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), an alliance comprising several jihadist groups aligned to al-Qaeda that has claimed responsibility for some of the biggest attacks in the Sahel region.
   
The foreign ministry (DFAE) said that “information about the killing was obtained by the French authorities from the recently released French hostage” Sophie Petronin, who returned to France on Friday after being freed by the Malian insurgents following almost four years in captivity.
 
   
Swiss authorities “are making every effort to find out more about the circumstances of the killing and the whereabouts of the remains,” the DFAE said, adding  that it “demands handing over” of the hostage's body.
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