Timbuktu (Mali): Gunmen killed a German man in Mali’s most famous city of Timbuktu and seized three tourists, including a South African.

A witness and an official said gunmen burst into a restaurant on Friday, grabbed four tourists and executed one when he refused to climb into their truck. The other two were Swedish and Dutch.

SA’s International Relations Department said today that there was “very little” information on the abduction of the South African

.

“The department is in close contact with the family. We met them to compare notes and render consular assistance to them. The family is quite anxious for any news,” said the department’s spokesman, Clayson Monyela.

“There is very little we know at this stage.”

He said the South African embassy was working closely with authorities in Mali, who had “mounted a huge search”.

Monyela said the department had been advised it was safer not to publish the name of the 36-year-old.

“Kidnappers watch, listen and monitor any bit of information so they can use that to achieve their agenda. We are dealing with a very unfortunate eventuality,” he said.

Tour guide, Ali Maiga, was with the tourists when the attack took place. Officials on Saturday evacuated foreigners from Timbuktu to the capital.

The kidnapping comes ahead of an official visit by Mali’s president to the Netherlands next week.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, confirmed on Twitter that one of those kidnapped was Swedish.

Travel

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the murdered foreigner was “with a high probability a German national” and updated its Mali travel advisory to mention the killing.

Canadian tourist, Julie-Ann Leblond, said she met a group consisting of a South African, a Swede and a Dutch couple in Mali.

She said they invited her to join them as they headed to Timbuktu, but she fell ill on Wednesday and had to stay behind.

Leblond did not provide the names of the tourists and said the German was travelling separately.

Until a few years ago, Timbuktu was one of the most visited destinations in Africa, but it is now one of the many former tourist hotspots in Mali that have been deemed too dangerous to visit by foreign embassies because of kidnappings by the local chapter of al-Qaeda.

Friday’s incident comes after two French citizens were grabbed in the middle of the night on Thursday from their hotel in the Malian town of Hombori.

French judicial officials have opened an investigation.

Neither kidnapping has yet been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, whose members have kidnapped and ransomed more than 50 Europeans and Canadians since 2003.

If Friday’s kidnapping is by AQIM, it will mark the first time it has taken a hostage inside of Timbuktu’s city limits.

The group’s footprint has grown dramatically since 2006, when the Algerian-led cell first joined al-Qaeda.

Security experts estimate the group has been able to raise about $130 million (R1.1 billion) from ransom payments alone. – Sapa-AP