Sunday 22 April 2018

Jihadi with English accent threatens to kill captive nun

Swiss nun Beatrice Stockly (Photo: Ahmed Ouoba/AFP/Getty Images)
Swiss nun Beatrice Stockly (Photo: Ahmed Ouoba/AFP/Getty Images)

Colin Freeman

A British-accented man dubbed the "Saharan Jihadi John" has appeared in an al-Qaeda video in which he threatens the life of a Swiss nun kidnapped in northern Mali.

The nun, Beatrice Stockly, was abducted three weeks ago from her home in Timbuktu, where she had returned to work despite a previous kidnapping ordeal at the hands of Islamists in 2012.

In a video released on the internet, a masked English-speaking militant says that she has been targeted again for attempting to spread Christianity, and says she can be freed in exchange for jailed Islamist fighters.

The militant, who says he belongs to the group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AGIM), is not named in the video, but his camera presence and rhetoric are similar those of the Isil killer Jihadi John.

His voice also resembles that of another masked English-speaking fighter who appeared in a different AQIM hostage video last June.

The June video showed two other AQIM prisoners, Stephen McGowan from South Africa and Johan Gustafsson from Sweden, and appealed to their governments to negotiate for their release.

While al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) operating areas are mainly former French colonies such as Mali, Niger, Algeria and Burkina Faso, it is thought the group sees a propaganda gain in using an English speaker to front some of its broadcasts.

As well as widening its potential recruitment net, it also gives its enemies the impression that it is truly fighting a jihad "without borders".

Mr McGowan was riding back home from Britain through Africa on a motorbike when he and Mr Gustafsson were kidnapped from a hotel in Timbuktu in November 2011. Neither had been seen publicly for almost two years.

The eight-minute video featuring Ms Stockly shows her dressed in a veil and stating that the clip was filmed on January 19.

The English-speaking narrator states: "We, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Sahara region, declare our responsibility for the kidnapping of this Christianising kaffir (unbeliever) Beatrice Stockly, who by her work, drove out many from the fold of Islam by seducing them with crumbs of this worldly life."

The video also outlined the terms of the group's demands, which included the release of members imprisoned by the Malian government and Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, a militant who is now in the custody of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Mali's expansive north has been unstable since 2012, when separatist rebels and jihadists seized the area. Although French forces scattered them from cities the following year, they have stepped up attacks in recent months.

AQIM claimed responsibility for a November assault on a Bamako hotel in which gunmen took hostages and killed 20, as well as an attack on January 15 on a Burkina Faso hotel and restaurant in which 30 people died.

Ms Stockly has lived in Timbuktu for years and was previously kidnapped from the same house in April 2012.

At that time, she was thought to be the last Westerner living in the desert city, which was falling under the increasing control of AQIM and other anti-government groups.

Two weeks later, special forces from Burkina Faso flew into northern Mali in a helicopter and whisked her to safety in a pre-arranged handover by Islamist rebels.

After Ms Stockly's kidnapping in 2012, the Swiss foreign ministry said it had discouraged her from another stay in Mali.

Residents of Timbuktu say her second abduction took place on January 8, when armed men in four cars grabbed her from her house and then sped away, leaving track marks in the sand.

"One vehicle parked in front of the house and armed men got out and abducted the woman, while the other three cars secured the area from a distance,' said the source.

"People were sleeping but neighbours heard the noise - the woman screamed a lot," said Bilal Mahamane Traore, a town councilor in Timbuktu. "Not a single neighbour, though, called security forces."

MI5 and MI6 are believed to be studying both hostage videos for clues to the identity of the narrator, whose mannerisms and swagger mimic those of the Isil killer Jihadi John.

Jihadi John was killed by an air strike last year, having previously been identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Londoner. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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