Algiers, May 14 (Reuters): Algerian troops stormed an Islamist militants’ hideout deep in the Sahara desert and freed 17 European adventure tourists held for two months — but the fate of 15 others was unknown, authorities said today.
“After a brief assault against the terrorists, the group of 17 tourists were freed, healthy and unharmed,” the Algerian national armed forces said in a statement. The daily El Watan, citing security sources, said the shootout lasted several hours yesterday and the 100 special forces troops killed at least nine armed militants holding the tourists.
“Intense searches are still taking place in southern Algeria to find and free the foreign tourists held by a second terrorist group,” the interior ministry said — but a military source said the search in tough terrain may not yet have begun.
Diplomatic sources were worried about the remaining 10 Germans, four Swiss and one Dutchman who were believed to be held by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) near the southern Tuareg city Illizi, some 1,200 km south of the capital Algiers.
“The freed tourists were freed by force, not by negotiation, which means the outlook for the rest isn’t good,” the diplomat said. “The forces will have to act quickly to free them.”