French hostages given to al Qaeda-linked Somali group

Fri Jul 17, 2009 11:33am GMT

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia's al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab movement has taken possession of both French hostages seized in Mogadishu after winning a tussle with another rebel group holding one of them, insurgent sources said on Friday.

Gunmen stormed a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday to grab the Frenchmen, who were working as security advisers for President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's government.

Kidnappings in the Horn of Africa nation are fairly common -- usually of Somalis, sometimes of foreigners and increasingly of ship crews off the coast. They are just one symptom of an 18-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands.

Rebels and an official said the two French agents were seized by a faction in the security forces linked to insurgents. It handed them to Hizbul Islam, who initially passed one to al Shabaab then handed the other over on Thursday night, the rebel sources said.

"We have handed over to al Shabaab the second Frenchman," a militia leader of the Hizbul Islam, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. "We had been arguing a lot, and we were on the verge of killing among ourselves."

A senior al Shabaab member, reached by Reuters, confirmed the group was holding the Frenchmen but would not comment on their fate. "We have both the French security consultants in our stronghold area," he told Reuters, declining to be named.

"Our leaders will decide what happens next."

The men are being held in Mogadishu.

Hizbul Islam and al Shabaab have close linkes -- frequently fighting alongside one another and sharing the same flag, weapons and cars. Analysts say, however, that al Shabaab takes a harder line than Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys' Hizbul Islam.   Continued...

Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.