BAMAKO  – A Qaeda splinter group wants a total of 45million euros ($60 million) in ransoms for two European women aid workers and seven Algerian diplomats taken hostage, the group’s spokesman said Wednesday. The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) spokesman Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui gave the figures in reply to a written question submitted by AFP.  He said MUJAO was demanding 30 ion milleuros ($40 million) for the two women, an Italian and a Spaniard, kidnapped in October along with a Spanish man while working in a camp for Western Sahara refugees in Tindouf in western Algeria.

The Algerians were abducted on April 5 in Gao, northeast Mali, as Islamist and Tuareg separatist groups overran the north of the country in the wake of a military coup in the capital Bamako. Sahraoui said his group demanded 15 million euros for the diplomats, who included the Algerian consul in Gao, and the release of prisoners held by Algeria, threatening an attack otherwise. MUJAO warned on Sunday that the Algerians’ lives were in danger, saying negotiations with Algiers had broken down. “The Algerian delegation... completely refused our demands, and this decision will put the lives of the hostages in danger,” Sahraoui said in a short message sent to AFP at the time.

MUJAO’s comments were a setback a week after a spokesman told AFP that, together with Islamist group Ansar Dine, “we have agreed to the release of seven people arrested on Algerian soil in Gao”.

The same day, Algeria’s foreign minister had said the seven diplomats were in good health, that Algerian authorities were in contact with the kidnappers, and that “we expect this will soon bear fruit”.