Message from 3 Western hostages in #Mali. Better late than never

AQIM hostage Sjaak Rijke, Netherlands
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I wonder how long Mauritanian Arabic news website Sahara Medias had this video before they uploaded it to YouTube? The hostages were kidnapped in Timbuktu last  November, they hold letters with a date written in big, visible writing on each envelope saying “23 01 2012″ but the video was only released on 13 July 2012, just at the same time 7 Algerian diplomats are released.

Mali hostages say treated well in first message

Three hostages kidnapped by al Qaeda militants in northern Mali last year said they were in good health and being treated well in their first video message seen by Reuters on Friday.

The three men from South Africa, the Netherlands and Sweden were seized on November 25 by gunmen who killed a fourth person as the group walked along a street in the northern Mali town of Timbuktu.

The kidnapping happened weeks before a mix of secular and Islamist rebels, some with links to al Qaeda, took up arms against Mali’s government. The insurgents later took advantage of the chaos surrounding a March coup to take control of the country’s desert north.

In the 53-second film posted on video sharing website YouTube, the Dutch citizen appeared alone inside what looked like a mud hut and spoke first. He held an envelope with the date “29.01.2012” written on it.

AQIM hostage Sjaak Rijke, Netherlands

“I am Sjaak Rijke. I am from the Netherlands. I am with al-Qaeda and I’m being treated well. I received this letter from the Netherlands today,” he said in the video.

The film then cut to the South African and the Swedish men, in an outside location, surrounded by four gunmen armed with AK-47s. The two held separate envelopes marked “28.01.2012”.

AQIM hostages Stephen Malcolm of South Africa and Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson

“My name is Stephen Malcolm. I’m with al Qaeda. Today I received this letter from my country. I’m in good health and they are treating me well,” the South African said next in the video. Sweden’s Johan Gustafsson made a similar statement.

All three men spoke in front of a flag similar to one used by Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine which, along with al Qaeda faction MUJWA, now control two-thirds of Mali’s desert north, territory that includes Timbuktu.

Al Qaeda in North Africa said in December it carried out the kidnapping. It has also said it was holding six Frenchmen, two abducted from their hotel in the northern Mali town of Hombori two days before the Timbuktu kidnapping.

Another four were kidnapped in September 2010 in neighbouring Niger. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday the six were alive, but had been separated.

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