An Algerian terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda is holding hostage the 31 European tourists who disappeared in the Sahara desert weeks ago.
The tourists were kidnapped as human shields because the terrorists feared a clampdown by the authorities, the Austrian weekly Profil magazine reports in its latest edition, due out Monday.
Fifteen Germans, 10 Austrians, four Swiss, a Dutchman and a Swede travelling in at least seven separate groups are missing in the southern Sahara. Some have not been heard of since February.
Profil added it was highly likely the tourists were being held some 80 kilometres from the town of Illizi, some 1,700 kilometres southeast of Algiers.
It said the kidnappers were members of a terror group headed by Mokhtar Benmokhtar, a group which threatened to attack participants in the Paris-Dakar rally a few years ago and has recently taken in al-Qaeda members who fled from Libya.
The Austrian foreign ministry dismissed the report as "one of many rumours."
"There is no clear or ready explanation for what is happening in the Sahara desert, for where these people have disappeared to. The Algerian authorities are searching intensely in that area around Illizi, but have given us no indication that they may have found them." (Albawaba.com)