ALGIERS, (Reuters) – Families of Algerian kidnap victims paid nearly $19 million in ransom in 2007 to abductors who included Islamist rebels and criminal gangs, a government minister said in remarks published on Saturday.
The government of the north African OPEC member state rarely releases regular statistical information on crime.
Data on kidnapping, a lucrative crime common in the politically troubled Kabylie region east of Algiers, is seen as particularly sensitive because officials do not want to encourage copy-cat abductions.
Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni, in remarks quoted by government daily El Moudjahid, said abductors kidnapped 375 people in Algeria last year, with 115 of those cases related to what he called terrorism. He gave no comparative figures.
Moudjahid quoted him as saying that, “115 kidnapping cases with links to terrorism were reported in 2007, when amounts reaching six billion dinars ($93 million) were demanded (as ransom).” A further 260 abduction cases were blamed on criminal “delinquents”.
“Families of the victims paid (a total of) 1.2 billion dinars ($18.7 million),” he said.
Algerian newspapers have in recent years said kidnapping is a growing phenomenon. Cases often involve the families of wealthy building contractors.
Investigations by security services also showed that some abductions were aimed at smuggling human organs, Zerhouni said. “Not long ago a man was arrested near the Moroccan borders while preparing to kidnap a two-year old child. After the arrest, he confessed to having sold children to a hospital in Oujda, Morocco,” Zerhouni said, referring to a man who belonged to a gang of traffickers in human organs.
Algeria plans to expand its police force to 200,000 by 2009 from 140,000 now to cope with common crime, which has flourished as the country emerges from years of political bloodshed.
Violence broke out in Algeria in 1992 after the military-backed authorities scrapped a parliamentary election that an Islamist political party was set to win. Up to 200,000 people have been killed in the ensuing bloodshed.