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Originally published March 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 10, 2008 at 7:02 PM

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Al-Qaida says it kidnapped two Austrian tourists in Tunisia

Al-Qaida terrorist group claims responsibility for kidnapping Austrian tourists in Tunisia, North Africa

The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt — An al-Qaida group has claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Austrian tourists last month in Tunisia.

In an audio recording aired Monday on Al-Jazeera television, a man who identified himself as Salah Abu Mohammed said the terrorist group kidnapped the two Austrians on Feb. 22 in retribution for Western cooperation with Israel, but said the hostages were in good health.

"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," said Abu Mohammed, a spokesman for what's called al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Gaertner could not confirm the hostage-taking in the North African country, but said authorities would ask Al-Jazeera for a copy of the tape so they could analyze and verify it. Gaertner also said a large-scale search has been under way since the two Austrians were reported missing. He said authorities have not received any demands nor been contacted by the alleged kidnappers.

The Washington-based SITE Institute, which monitors militant Islamic Web sites, also reported the claim by the group al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, saying it was posted on jihadist Internet forums.

The two Austrian tourists were identified as Wolfgang Ebner and Andrea Kloiber in the al-Qaida statement. Austrian media have identified Ebner as a 51-year-old tax consultant from the town of Hallein, and said 43-year-old Kloiber is his girlfriend.

Authorities said the missing couple was driving a Jeep with Austrian license plates when they disappeared in the North African country.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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