S E C R E T STATE 132159
E.O. 12958: DECL: MR TAGS: ASEC SUBJECT: DIPLOMATIC SECURITY DAILY
Classified By: Derived from Multiple Sources
Declassify on: Source marked 25X1-human, Date of source: December 16, 2008
- (S//NF) AF Niger — Two tearlines from December 16 suggest al-Qa´ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb´s (AQIM´s) complicity in the December 15 kidnapping of a UN special envoy to Niger and Canadian Ambassador Robert Fowler (and his special assistant, Louis Guay). Tearline from December 16 reads, "Two Canadians taken hostage in Niger were possibly transported to AQIM in Mali on December 15. Mali-based AQIM leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar ´s associate Hamed may have received the hostages from a Tuareg in Mali near the Mali-Niger border. Hamed later began travel north to meet Belmokhtar .
- (S) Earlier tearline from the same day stated, "Nigerien Movement for Justice (MNJ) and Front for Redress Forces (FFR) reportedly were not involved in the mid-December kidnapping of a Canadian citizen. However, a Tuareg associate of AQIM may have been involved. The Tuareg was in the same region as the Canadian during the time frame he was apparently kidnapped. Following the kidnapping, the Tuareg traveled to Mali where he apparently met with an associate of AQIM el-Moulethamine battalion leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar near the Niger-Mali border. Belmokhtar ´s associate then returned to Belmokhtar ´s location approximately 250 km west of Kidal, Mali.
- (S//NF) DS/TIA/ITA cannot immediately substantiate that AQIM is indeed holding the hostages, but previous reporting has highlighted the group´s and Belmokhtar ´s intent to conduct kidnapping operations. Additionally, the recent ransom payment AQIM received for the Austrian hostages may have emboldened nefarious and AQIM-aligned elements in the region to conduct this operation.
After the Austrian hostages were released in northern Mali on October 3, (KILDE SLETTET AV AFTENPOSTEN ) a member of the Tuareg rebel movement, told U.S. Embassy Bamako AQIM had offered a bounty of approximately $45,000 to any traffickers and bandits in northern Mali who kidnapped non-American Westerners. Also of note, Belmokhtar allegedly tasked operatives on several occasions with kidnapping-for-ransom operations, including an abduction operation targeting the German deputy chief of mission in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Concurrently, Belmokhtar has also specifically ordered his operatives to avoid targeting Am Cits for fear of retribution from the government.
- (S//NF) Although many of the details of this specific operation remain unclear, it was likely an ad-hoc operation and a target of opportunity, possibly in response to the bounty offered by AQIM. According to U.S. Embassy reporting, the kidnapping occurred after Ambassador Fowler journeyed to a gold mine located in the southwest city of Tera on December 14. The incident itself occurred in the Tillabeyi region of Niger, approximately 40 km from the capital, and the site of 2008´s Niger Republic Day festivities; last year´s celebrations in northern Tahou witnessed a land mine explosion.
- (S//NF) The trip was described as personal business, and he did not coordinate the trip with the Nigerien authorities, the UN, or the Canadian Embassy. After visiting the mine, Fowler and Guay contacted the Canadian chief of mission (COM) at 4:40 p.m. At the time, they were located at the ferry crossing and were expected back in Niamey at approximately 7:30 p.m. After Guay failed to show up for dinner with the Canadian COM in Niamey that evening, local police began searching for both Fowler and Guay. In the early morning of December 15, the police discovered their abandoned UN vehicle -- which was unmarked aside from UN license plates -- parked on the right side of the road with the motor running and a turn signal blinking. Nothing was taken from the vehicle.
- (S//NF) Initial speculation as to the culprits centered on the FFR. On early December 15, they issued a claim of responsibility on their website, stating Ambassador Fowler was safe and would be moved to another location where he would be transferred to unidentified collaborators. They also cited the kidnapping as a warning to all diplomats who allegedly collaborate with the "ethnocidal regime" of Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja. The statement was signed by FFR leader Rhissa Ag Boula. A follow-up website statement by Mohamed Aquitcki Kriska, the president of FFR, denied the group had conducted the hostage operation. U.S. Embassy Niamey also questioned the veracity of Ag Boula´s statement due to inaccuracies in the timing of the event and the number of hostages taken. DS/TIA/ITA notes it is unlikely either the MNJ or FFR sanctioned this kidnapping operation, as they both have a historically contentious relationship with AQIM. They also do not operate in southwestern Niger, where Fowler was allegedly kidnapped. Instead, they are largely confined to their indigenous lands in the north.
- (S//NF) The kidnapping may also have wider strategic implications for neighboring countries. If AQIM keeps the hostages in northern Mali, as it did with the Austrian hostages for nearly eight months, the Malian Government will likely face strong international pressure to increase its counterterrorism operations against the group and to ignore an unwritten deal that AQIM will not attack in Mali if the government does not crack down on the group´s operations in the region.