Friday, February 5, 2010

Couple held by pirates 'could be sold to al-Qaeda'

Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were kidnapped by Somali pirates in October, were briefly reunited in an emotional encounter last week, the gang holding the couple

Mr and Mrs Chandler from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, have been held apart in makeshift camps to make any rescue attempt more difficult.

The couple, aged 60 and 56, were shown separately on television last week looking gaunt and exhausted and shortly afterwards were allowed a brief meeting.

"We brought them together a few days ago," said Abdullahi Dhagaweyne, a commander of the pirate gang holding the Chandlers. "I think they had some kindhearted meeting and enjoyable moments after more days of separation. We are going to bring them together again soon.

"When we separated them again the woman was shrieking."

Mr Dhagaweyne, who spoke from Haradheere, the pirate town on the central Somali coast where the couple have been kept, warned the gang was "losing patience" and could sell them to al-Qaeda-linked factions.

He said: "I cannot confirm that they will forever be in our hands if no ransom is paid, there might be another decision in the future."

A sale to Somalia's radical al-Shabaab militia, which has been linked to al-Qaeda, is a potential alternative to a ransom payment which the Chandlers relatives and friends cannot afford.