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Al-Qaida N. Africa claims 6 hostages

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Al-Qaida N. Africa claims 6 hostages
Photo released Feb. 18 by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb of two Swiss tourists it says were kidnapped in Mali last month. The group has threatened "to deal with the six kidnapped according to Islamic Shariah law." The hostages' identities could not be confirmed. (Photo courtesy IntelCenter.)

NIAMEY, Niger, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Al-Qaida's North Africa branch claims it is holding hostage a Canadian U.N. peace envoy, his aide and four tourists who were kidnapped in the Sahara.

A spokesman for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algerian group that claims to have joined Osama bin Laden's terror network in 2006 but some say has simply adopted the name, threatened "to deal with the six kidnapped according to Islamic Shariah law," an audio recording played on pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera said.

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This appears to be a threat to execute the six Westerners if the organization's demands are not met, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported.

An identical threat was posted on militant Web sites, said SITE, a U.S. organization that monitors militant messages.

The al-Qaida group didn't issue immediate demands for the hostages' release, the Telegraph reported.

Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, the special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Niger, and aide Louis Guay, both diplomats, were kidnapped Dec. 14 near Niger's capital, Niamey.

Four tourists, including a Swiss couple, a German woman and a British man, were kidnapped Jan. 22 in neighboring Mali after attending a Tuareg cultural festival there, the BBC reported.

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"We are aware of the reports but we have nothing further to comment," a U.N. spokeswoman said.

Swiss and British officials said they were seeking to secure the tourists' safety. Germany had no immediate comment.

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