A short update on the situation with Austrian hostages taken by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which I earlier blogged about here.
In my earlier post, I hypothesized that the hostage-takers were in it for the money rather than a crusade against the West. The alternative would be that Droukdel, the nominal leader of AQIM who is behind recent Iraq-style simultaneous carbombings, was also behind the hostage-taking, and would behead them on television or somehow use them for purposes other than extortion. Some pointed to an attack in Mauritania where four French tourists were shot by some random dudes that the Mauritanian government claimed were Al Qaeda (you don't get GWOT funding from the US if tourists are killed by bandits, only if they are killed by Al Qaeda), and thought that the current hostage crisis was the same type of deal.
Well multiple deadlines for ransom have passed an by all accounts the Austrian hostages are still alive. The hostages may not be in northern Mali after all, or they may have once been in northern Mali but have been moved elsewhere. (Update, missed this story at Temoust, apparently they are in constant movement.)
It looks like negotiations have been pretty successful so far - demands have moved from "release all these guys in Algerian prisons (and pay us lots of money)!" to the more achievable "release a Muslim couple in jail in Austria, and withdraw your four guys from Afghanistan (and pay us lots of money)." The Austrian government which previously declared it would not pay ransoms, now says: "We want to achieve a humanitarian goal and are resolutely aiming for that."
My guess is that the hostages will be freed and Austria will, like Germany five years ago, deny having paid a ransom, wink wink.