Briton among tourists kidnapped in Mali

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A British man is among four European tourists kidnapped in Mali, the group's travel firm said today.

They were taken hostage in the West African country as they returned from a cultural festival yesterday.

The kidnappers were "clearly" seeking a ransom for the release of a prisoner but so far nothing was known about them, German tour operator Oase Reisen said.

The four tourists - a Briton who was working in Austria, two Swiss citizens and a German woman - were captured after attending a festival of nomad culture at Anderamboukane in Mali.

In total there were seven tourists in the group and they were travelling in three cars, the travel company said.

Near the border with Niger they were stopped by armed Tuareg rebels, who shot out the tyres of the first vehicle.

The driver of the second car turned it around and escaped across the bush. It was hit by three bullets but nobody was hurt.

Local Oase Reisen staff later found the shocked cook who was accompanying the tourists.

He said he had been subjected to a "show execution" where the kidnappers fired a gun just an inch away from his head.

Werner Gartung, chief executive of the tour operator, said: "The three cars were still in Mali on the way back to Niger.

"They were arrested by Tuareg with automatic rifles who shot immediately into the tyres of the first car with the four clients.

"The second car with the three clients could turn and drive across the bush, three bullets did hit the car, but nobody was hurt."

He added: "Nothing is known so far on the kidnappers."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office could not confirm that a British national was among those taken hostage but said it was investigating reports.

The Anderamboukane festival, which started on Tuesday and finishes today, takes place in January of every odd year and is billed as a "trans-frontier celebration of Tuareg culture, music, sports, and crafts".

In recent years northern Mali has been the scene of violent clashes between Tuareg rebels and the Malian army.

Last week, Niger's president Mamadou Tandja said two Canadian diplomats - the United Nations envoy to Niger and his assistant Louis Gray - were being held in Niger by terrorist groups after being kidnapped on December 15.