Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, has released a new video that showcases two Western hostages. The hostages, a French national and a Dutch national, both appeal to their respective governments to intervene in order to free them.
The video was produced by Al Andalus Media, AQIM’s media wing, and then disseminated online. The video has been translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The first hostage to speak, Serge Lazarevic, appears to be positioned in a vehicle with al Qaeda’s black flag situated in the background. Speaking to the camera, Lazarevic says: “I seize this opportunity to solemnly call on Francois Holland, President of the Republic of France, to do everything to free me. I am very sick. My stomach hurts. I suffer from high hypertension, asthma, a knee ulcer. I feel that my life is in danger since the French intervention in Iraq. I ask you, Mr. President, to do all you can for my liberation, because you are responsible for all that will happen to me.”
Lazarevic then mentions that five Taliban leaders were exchanged for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He notes: “In the past you freed all the French, and I am the last. I hope not to be the eighth on the list of the French killed in the Sahel. Obama liberated the only American soldier in exchange for five Taliban leaders.”
He ends by addressing his family: “I say hello to my family, my mother [unclear], my daughter Diane Nihatovitch, her husband, the children, and my sister. I ask that everything be done for my release. I also ask the French people to help my family for my freedom. Thank you.”
Lazarevic, who holds both French and Serbian citizenship, was seized in 2011 in Mali by AQIM forces there. He was kidnapped along with another French national, Philippe Verdon, who was killed last year by AQIM in Mali.
The second hostage to speak is Sjaak Rijke, the Dutch national. Rijke, who has been held captive for more than 1,000 days, appears to be speaking from location separate from Lazarevic’s. Sitting in front of a white sheet, Rijke identifies the date as being Sept. 26, 2014, indicating that he was still alive as of almost two months ago.
Rijke says his health is deteriorating, and he also mentions the Bergdahl prisoner swap. He states: “I want to send a message to my government and inform them that until now, I’ve not received anything official with respect to the negotiations while at the same time we see that the American government released five Taliban captives to get one American rescued, captive returned. I’m suffering from serious back problems and I’m not well emotionally. I’m in extreme circumstances and a difficult security situation. As of today, I hold my government responsible for any harm that comes to me.”
Rijke ends by appealing to his family and the citizens in Holland, saying, “[P]lace as much pressure to the government so that they take serious steps to come to a quick solution and that they respond to the demands of the mujahideen. Please help me. Please.”
Rijke was abducted by AQIM in Mali in 2011. He was kidnapped at a hotel in the Malian city of Timbuktu along with a German national, a Swede, and a South African. The status of the other hostages is unclear.
AQIM has a history of taking Western hostages
AQIM has a long history of taking hostages to fund its activities. In 2010, Michel Germaneau, a French hostage held by AQIM, died while in captivity. And in 2013, four French hostages were released by AQIM after being held for three years; it is speculated that a ransom of 20 million Euros was paid to free them.
Before that, AQIM was responsible for the kidnapping of Spanish nationals in Mauritania and an Italian and French national in Mali in 2009, as well as many more abductions throughout North Africa.
The al Qaeda branch’s prolific kidnappings have even led senior al Qaeda leaders to tighten their control over the hostage-taking operations.
In November 2010, AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel made a surprising claim in a video that was aired on Al Jazeera. Droukdel said that France would have to negotiate with Osama bin Laden himself to secure the release of several French hostages. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations.]