Seven Algerian diplomats who were kidnapped by armed gunmen in the north-eastern Malian city of Gao, held by Tuareg rebels, have been released, Al Arabiya TV reported on Sunday quoting an Algerian security source.
Algeria’s el-Watan newspaper confirmed the report on its website on Sunday, citing its correspondent in Mali.
The town of Gao, which housed the regional military headquarters, was seized on Saturday by Tuareg and Islamists linked to al-Qaeda splinter group the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
Tuareg rebels were emboldened by the Mar. 22 coup in once-stable Mali to seize half the country in a quest for a northern homeland. They have been joined by Islamists bent on imposing sharia across the Muslim state.
As the Tuareg trumpeted the success of a decades-old struggle to “liberate” their homeland, their fundamentalist comrades-turned-rivals began imposing sharia in northern Mali, also leaving an embattled junta looking very vulnerable in Bamako.
On Friday, Tuareg rebels of Mali’s National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declared “the independence of Azawad,” a region in the north of the country.
The declaration was dismissed by the African Union and neighboring Algeria and Morocco in addition to regional player France.