Algeria’s army has retrieved a “slice of the ransom” cash paid out to free hostages held by “terrorist groups” in the troubled Sahel region, the defense ministry has said.
Soldiers “recovered the sum of 80,000 euros” ($97,900) during an operation in Algeria’s northeastern Jijel province, a statement issued late Monday said.
Algerian authorities use the term “terrorist” to describe armed Islamists who have been active in the country since the early 1990s, including members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The defense ministry said the cash was an “instalment of the ransom” paid out in a controversial October agreement, where neighboring Mali released some 200 prisoners including militant leaders to secure the release of four hostages, including French aid worker Sophie Petronin.
Algeria condemned the deal, and Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad said the payment of ransoms “undermines our counter-terrorism efforts.”
Algiers said it had subsequently arrested several extremist fighters who had fled across the porous desert border from Mali.
Earlier this month, in the same Jijel province, three extremist fighters and an Algerian soldier were killed in clashes, while on December 16, troops arrested a man they described as “dangerous terrorist,” named Rezkane Ahcene.
One of the men later arrested in Algeria alleged that a ransom was paid totaling “millions” of euros.
Rumors of ransoms paid for the release of western hostages in the Sahel region are common but rarely confirmed, and France has denied any involvement in negotiations for the release of the hostages.
France has deployed over 5,000 troops across the arid Sahel region of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as part of its Operation Barkane mission fighting extremist groups.
Three French soldiers were killed on Monday in Mali when their armored vehicle struck an explosive device, taking the total deaths to 47 since Paris first intervened militarily in 2013.