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(Dakar) - Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is responsible for the brutal killing of a British tourist on May 31, 2009, should immediately and unconditionally free a second hostage in its custody, Human Rights Watch said today.

The murdered hostage, Edwin Dyer, was one of four European tourists kidnapped in Niger near the Malian border on January 22 as they returned from a music festival. On April 26, the group threatened to kill Dyer unless the British government freed an imprisoned Palestinian Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada al-Filistini, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Othman, within 20 days. On May 15, the group extended the deadline to May 30. Dyer's killing on May 31 was reported in a communique issued by the group on June 2.

"The world was shocked by this brutal killing," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb should finally realize that these vicious attacks do not serve its cause and should immediately free the remaining hostage."

The two female captives among the four Europeans kidnapped on January 22 were freed on April 22, along with two Canadian United Nations diplomats - Robert Fowler and Louis Guay - who had been abducted in Niger by the group in December. It is believed that all six hostages were moved to northern Mali, where Dyer was probably executed.

The fate of the remaining hostage, a Swiss national named Werner Greiner, remains unknown. There are conflicting reports about whether AQIM is imposing any conditions for his release. Human Rights Watch called on the group to free him immediately and unconditionally.

AQIM was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. In January 2007, the group affiliated itself with al-Qaeda and has since extended its operations from its original base of operations in Algeria to other North African states. It has been implicated in the killing of scores of civilians, such as the December 2007 twin bombings of the United Nations offices and a court building in Algiers that left 41 dead according to media accounts, including 17 UN personnel, and the December 2007 killing of four French tourists in Mauritania.

"AQIM's murder of Edwin Dyer demonstrates an utter contempt for human life," said Dufka. "Those responsible for this terrible crime and for earlier attacks by AQIM that have left scores of dead in their wake should be apprehended and brought to justice."

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