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Last Updated: Monday, 10 March 2008, 18:01 GMT
Al-Qaeda claims Austrian hostages
Tourists in a Tunisian souk in 2007
Tunisia is a popular holiday destination
Militant group al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa has said it took two Austrian tourists hostage in Tunisia last month.

The declaration, made in an audio broadcast aired on al-Jazeera TV, said the duo were kidnapped on 22 February.

A spokesman who called himself Salah Abou-Mohammad said it was retribution for the West's support of Israel.

Austria's foreign ministry said two Austrians had been missing in Tunisia since mid-February.

'Previously warned'

The al-Qaeda spokesman said the pair were in good health.

Austrian authorities did not release their names, saying only that they were a 51-year-old man and a 40-year-old woman, the Associated Press news agency reported.

"We tell Western tourists that at the same time they are flowing into Tunisian lands seeking joy, our brothers are being slain in Gaza by the Jews with the collaboration of the Western states," the al-Qaeda spokesman was quoted by AP as saying.

"The mujahideen have previously warned and alerted them that the apostate Tunisian state cannot and will not be able to protect you, and the hands of the mujahideen can reach you wherever you are on the Tunisian soil."

It is reported the couple were last heard from in the southern Tunisian town of Matmata.

"The spokesman said in the tape that the group will announce its conditions for the release of the two tourists at a later stage," an al-Jazeera broadcaster was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Tunisia, a popular destination for European holidaymakers, has seen attacks on tourists by al-Qaeda before.

In 2002, a truck bomb outside a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba killed 21 people, including 14 German tourists.



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