- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

MALI

Militants free 4 Western hostages

BAMAKO | Al Qaeda’s North African branch on Wednesday released in Mali two Canadian diplomats, a German and a Swiss tourist kidnapped several months ago, but held on to two other Europeans.

The kidnappers released Robert Fowler, U.N. special envoy to Niger, and his assistant, Louis Gay, who were snatched in December last year in Niger and two female tourists out of a group of four nabbed in January. The women’s traveling companions are still being held.

The tourists, who have not been identified, were taken in January in the border zone between Mali and Niger as they were returning from a Tuareg cultural festival. Al Qaeda’s North African branch claimed responsibility for both kidnappings.

SIERRA LEONE

3 drug suspects flown to U.S.

FREETOWN | U.S. agents have flown three men from Sierra Leone to the United States to face drugs charges, a day after they were jailed for smuggling cocaine, the West African country said Wednesday.

Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took custody of a Colombian, an American and a Togolese-Cuban, hours after they were jailed and fined millions of dollars by a court in Sierra Leone.

The three were part of a gang convicted of smuggling about 1,545 pounds of cocaine, worth some $35 million on the street, into Sierra Leone in a light aircraft last year.

The case has highlighted the increased interest of U.S. and European drug agencies in fighting the narcotics trade across a web of West African nations that are being targeted as transit points for Latin American cocaine headed for Europe.

SUDAN

11 Darfur rebels sentenced to death

KHARTOUM | A Sudanese court on Wednesday sentenced 11 members of the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement to death for a 2008 attack on the Sudanese capital.

Five other defendants were acquitted and will be freed, the court said.

Two other cases will be transferred to another court, one because the suspect is under 18 years old, the other because the defendant was judged mentally unstable.

In a separate trial last week, 10 JEM members were sentenced to death after being found guilty of involvement in the same attack on Khartoum, and three were acquitted.

More than 70 rebels have now been sentenced to death for the shock attack, in which more than 200 people were killed. None of those sentenced has yet been executed.

The rebels drove hundreds of miles across desert and scrubland to reach the capital and were only a few miles from the presidential palace when government troops halted them.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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